United Airlines is adjusting its Transatlantic fleet once again. Flights from Newark to Dublin are now showing the 777HD configuration for operations starting on 9 March 2018 rather than the traditional intercontinental 2-class 777 that flew the route last year and typically handles long-haul service. The current version of the schedule also omits the second daily Newark-Dublin flight that has historically operated during the summer season.
By dropping the later 752 and increasing the 777 size the carrier sees a slight drop in coach capacity (~10%) thanks to the many rows of 10-abreast coach in the 77H layout. Business class capacity is slashed by 60% with the move while containerized cargo space remains reasonably unaffected. Last summer generally showed excess economy capacity when judged using last-minute saver award space as the metric so United may benefit overall with the small decrease here.
Putting a “domestic” aircraft on an international route is not ideal for passengers for any number of reasons. In this particular case, in addition to the tighter squeeze in economy (coming to more of the 777s soon anyways) the 77H has no in-seat entertainment system and still suffers from the call button plague on the economy armrests. Passengers in Polaris (business class) will get a flat bed – important for the company to maintain that level of service – but it is the oldest and generally least appealing of the various business products available on United.
But the move also makes a lot of sense for the carrier. United needs to begin the retrofit of its 3-cabin 777-200 fleet to the new 2-cabin Polaris layout and that means pulling aircraft out of service. This adjustment frees an international 772 to cover for a 3-cabin plane in the shop and the 752 can cover one of the transcon routes the 77H would’ve otherwise flown. It is a trickle down impact that gets everything done the way it needs to happen while negatively impacting the fewest passengers and operations.
Plus, Dublin is generally a lower yielding passenger market. Aer Lingus provides significant competition, both to Dublin and beyond, with a pricing structure that is spectacularly close to an LCC/ULCC model for economy passengers, particularly with the newest “no bags” fares recently introduced. At the same time, the inflight product on Aer Lingus economy is significantly more comfortable than what United will be flying with the 77H.
Hopefully the Polaris retrofits manage to run on time (or close to it) and the substitution can be isolated to the one route and one season. Or maybe United will manage to delve into a LCC product across the Pond going forward though that remains highly unlikely.
(h/t Rob for the news)
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