3 Key Points from United Airlines President Scott Kirby

Chris McGinnis conducted an interesting interview with United Airlines President Scott Kirby.

There’s a lot here for United flyers, especially those based on the West Coast. For me, though, three things especially stood out.

  1. Kirby acknowledges how bad the airline’s wifi is – but claims nobody’s system is perfect (even though both Delta’s and American’s are materially better than United’s). Honestly if United would match American and Delta with wifi they’d be a competitor for my business but I actively avoid flying them because I can’t count on being productive when I do.

  2. He says it makes no sense to give customers more seat width, that airlines (like Delta, apparently) who go 9-abreast on a Boeing 777 instead of 10-abreast can’t make money.

  3. And he drops that the airline will eventually return to serving Oakland and also that he’d love 5-6 New York JFK flights (he’s consistently said it was a mistake for United to leave JFK, because even if those flights didn’t do well they were key to corporate contracts on the West Coast they lost).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. 1) The JFK ship has sailed.

    2) 10 abreast in coach PREVENTS me from booking your international flights.

    3) United wifi has worked on one my previous three UA flights. (although they were 3 hours late, one hour late and one hour late)

    United does not get it.

  2. i’d put zero credence in whatever he says about OAK and JFK. It has as much truth as AA talk about flying to Africa and India when they can’t figure out how to fly to TLV.

  3. Air New Zealand’s WiFi is very good, and included in the price. Their seats in economy is comfortable and the whole experience is generally very good. Oh Flight times are great for sleeping. No more UA for me on trips to Australia unless last stop is SYD.

  4. They break guitars
    They drag passengers bloody
    They have uncomfortable seating & they appear to be a very bad version of Continental Airlines
    Probably not again in my lifetime
    Did I mention no customer service bad award availability and high extortion fees?

  5. Awesome job HenryLAX as usual re-directing towards OAL and refusing to hear any criticism about UA.

    JFK has not sailed – if they want back in, they can figure out a way. It will just cost them a pretty penny…thanks $misek!

  6. JFK is NOT sailed. UA WILL fly again from JFK, they just need to find slots/gates, etc. They obviously realize the issue, and don’t put it past Kirby to want to screw AA by grabbing some of the routes/business they are leaving on the floor in NY.

  7. Frankly, I viewed the “question” regarding densification of United’s 777s as a total softball question!

    Firstly, Kirby’s (lame) response was “everyone’s doing it” – which is identical to what the PR honcho at British Airways says when replying on that subject.

    Total, super bs lame-o response that always brings to mind that old schoolyard expression that asks: “If everyone was jumping off the Empire State Building, would you jump, too?!?!”

    Just because “everyone’s doing it” doesn’t make it right – especially if the interviewer fails to follow-up and ask “Well, can you tell me how many times, and when was the last time you parked your bum in the middle seat of your 17” wide seat that’s packed in a 31” pitch (no legroom row) on the largely hated, loathed and reviled Boeing 777-300ERs for the 15+ hours slog from Newark to Hong Kong?

    Hmmmmm. I’d love to see those questions asked and answered in an interview of substance instead of that softball, puff piece!

    PS: if the fare differences seen for Delta’s flights versus United’s and others for many flight searches done NYC to points in Florida (NOT including Miami) for the past month or so for March, April and early May are any indication, then it certainly appears that flyers ARE willing to pay more to fly Delta than United (or JetBlue) because Delta’s fares, even Basic Economy, have been nearly always been higher than those seen on other airlines.

    So, yeah, Scott, Delta seems to be doing well enough these days to be pricing higher for fares searches and bookings I’ve reviewed or made for others in recent weeks to eschew the “everyone else is doing it 777 densification plan”.

    Maybe that’s because many believe Delta, with its seat-back IFE and perception of a more consistent overall product is a much better option than what your airline offers – even if it costs more.

    That’s what I was left wondering anyway after seeing some pretty wide fare gaps between United and Delta’s flights!

    Just sayin’

  8. I wish I was doing the interview. I would ask him who in their right minds would possibly take their BS award flights, since everyone wants to spend 18 – 36 hours to get to Europe and have two 6 – 12 hr layovers. It must take a really sharp IT team to cobble together the absolute worst award routes on the face of the earth, using the oldest and worst aircraft imaginable.

  9. @UA-NYC : here’s my gator clap for your trolling effort. you deserve a gold star for participation considering you make like $45k at 51yo.

  10. @henry LAX – Childish retort. Instead of issuing insults that look pretty juvenile, consider proving his point wrong.

  11. Ten abreast on the 777 in economy is The Tragegy of the Tube. Lots of people who think they’re experts in this business think you can make more money by offering a slightly better coach product. They are generally wrong. You make money cramming as many people into the fixed-sized tube as possible. You can never recoup that lost 11% by offering more elbow room in coach. That’s reality — the world that Kirby lives in — and not the make believe more comfortable world that others want us to live in. It’s why you have 10 across on the 777 and densification of the narrowbody aircraft. Reality can suck.

  12. @Christian – he is a paid (poor-man’s) endorser for UA, it’s pretty clear in his history of pro-UA, anti-every OAL posts…quite amusing

  13. @chopsticks – Delta makes more money than United. I’m not saying United would make more money with 9-abreast coach but the idea that it’s impossible for an airline to do is absurd. If you present a commodity product, the lowest cost provider wins. Delta is trying to differentiate their product and earns a revenue premium. The question I think is about the future, as customers are presented with more than just schedule and price through better online tools (Google, perhaps dragging along the OTAs) what decisions will they make?

  14. Gary- how many 777s does Delta have – like 20 or less?

    UA has almost 100.

    It’s not much of a comparison when you only have to saddle 20 of them on ultra long haul routes with little LCC competition like SYD.

    I suppose NW did a better job at picking fleet 20 years ago – which is how we got to today in widebody Boeing vs Airbus mix.

  15. I agree with Gary and the commenters here about the 9-abreast 777. I’d even go so far as to say that, to me, seat width (and not getting bumped in the shoulder every time someone walks past in the aisle … talking to you Air France) is more important than pitch. And Delta has indeed shown that folks are willing to pay 11% more.

    I guess the question of why airplanes are so over-built that they can handle as many seats as get in them is not getting asked. The math says that all airplane costs should be close to affine and almost linear in passenger weight.

  16. I will not fly in coach on anyone with 10 a breast in a 777. My business will go elsewhere.
    My last 2 united flights were both 1+ hours late.
    I flew Turkish last week and their *FREE* wifi was better than United’s current paid wifi + they are only 9 across in coach …. go figure.

  17. I agree with everything that was said and what I probably said.
    Thank You, Glenlivet.

    Gary, You hit the nail on head with the 10 (soon to be 11) abreast explanation. #racetothebottom

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