United Airlines has launched premium-high, luxury, 767s into Europe.
Flights from the United States to secondary European markets — and from secondary US markets to primary European destinations — are bellwethers for a substantial part of the industry.
They’re often seasonal and the first to be withdrawn in economic downturns cost upticks or an aircraft availability squeeze. They’re arguably driving much of the development of Boeing’s middle-of-market aircraft.
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And now, with United’s latest high-premium Boeing 767-300ER deployment, they’re a way to target high-yield premium passengers: firstly those largely leisure passengers flying nonstop to secondary markets in a way that hasn’t been done before, and secondly supplementing premium capacity to primary destinations and Star Alliance hubs.
These 767s have incredibly high premium seating proportions, driven by a number of factors. 46 seats in business, 22 in premium economy, 43 in extra-legroom economy and 56 in regular economy — this is a high-end configuration and no mistake.
To start with, 46 Safran Optima seats branded as United Polaris stretch over halfway down the aircraft, in a 1-1-1 configuration.
This is a huge number of business class seats on a 767-300ER, up from 30 seats on United’s previous configuration of the aircraft, stretching around a third of the way down the cabin.
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The actual Polaris seat — not to be confused with “Fauxlaris”, the ongoing situation where the decade-old Collins Diamond seat is furnished with the latest soft product — is remarkably good, and indeed to my mind surpasses anything that United’s Star Alliance stablemates operate between the US and Europe, with the exception of Singapore Airlines’ JFK-Frankfurt leg.
Also driving the premiumisation of the aircraft is the premium economy section, which United brands as Premium Plus, which on this aircraft comprises 22 seats in a 2-2-2 layout.
As a result, the Economy Plus extra-legroom economy section is pushed back almost all the way to the rear of the aircraft, with these 34-inch-pitched seats on the outboard pairs of the 767’s 2-3-2 configuration all the way to the fifth row from the rear of the plane.
Just 56 regular economy seats at 31” pitch span most of the centre section, behind the bulkhead row. This itself is a fascinating change: it’s unusual for airlines to so dramatically mix their market segments, with most preferring to keep extra-legroom economy as a separate product offering. I wonder whether this is the result of the additional segmentation offered by the proper premium economy cabin now offered.
Compared with the ex-Continental 767-300ER configuration of 30 in business, 49 in extra-legroom economy and 135 in regular economy, it’s hugely premium.
The destinations vary interestingly too. Newark to Nice is at least partially driven by the Cannes film festival: rather a different reason for putting the high-premium 767 on that route compared with additional flights from United’s New York area hub to Frankfurt and, although the Dutch capital has a strong tourism draw, Amsterdam.
Chicago to Zurich is another hub-to-hub Star Alliance implementation, and like Newark-Frankfurt I’m wondering how much the airline’s frequent flyer programme, which like most US loyalty schemes doles out upgrades on the airline’s own metal, is driving the deployment of these high-premium upgrades. It feels somewhat odd to suggest, but it will be fascinating to see the extent to which the airline opens up substantial points redemption and upgrade opportunities on these routes compared with reserving seats for passengers buying into the cabin directly.
Says International Network Vice President Patrick Quayle, “United’s global network is a tremendous source of pride for our employees and loyal customers – we’re always looking for ways to grow and expand our network to connect our customers to more destinations around the world. These new additions help position United as the airline of choice for customers planning their business or leisure travel.”