JonNYC is usually a source of leaks about American Airlines, however over the weekend he broke Delta news and he’s expanded his portfolio by tweeting out United’s fleet plans.
He’ll often begin cryptically and then drip out further details. First off, he shares that United is going to start flying new Boeing 737 MAX 10 as “ps” aircraft.
Some United rumors (I know, WTF, right??)
Sure seems like 737-10 will be running PS starting in 2021
As well, seems UA is very inclined towards XLR and NMA on (far) more than an exploratory level.
— JonNYC (@xJonNYC) September 4, 2019
United Boeing 737s With Lie Flat Business Class Seats
Two years ago United converted 100 Boeing 737 MAX 9 orders to MAX 10s, the stretched high-capacity version of the aircraft. The 737 MAX 9 is 10 feet longer than the MAX 8. The MAX 10 is 5.5 feet longer than the MAX 9.
What United is going to do is operate a ‘subfleet’ of their MAX 10s in a premium configuration with lie flat seats, and use them to replace Boeing 757s on premium routes like Newark – Los Angeles and San Francisco. They could also use these planes from Houston to Latin America and Newark to Ireland and secondary cities in the U.K.
United Airlines Houston
While the 737 MAX 10 is the longest 737, it’s still about 11 feet shorter than the Boeing 757-200, meaning that United’s premium transcon planes will give up seats (for instance four rows of coach).
It’s still unclear what the business class configuration will look like on the single aisle 737. United has managed to maintain direct-aisle access with their Polaris business class seats on the 767 despite the narrow fuselage for a widebody. They’ll face similar challenges with this narrowbody, which doesn’t have the fuselage width of a comparable Airbus aircraft.
United Polaris Business Class Seat
New Long Haul Narrowbody Aircraft
The Boeing 757 was intended as a replacement for the 727, but wasn’t initially successful because it held about one-third more passengers and so wasn’t viewed by airlines as a logical aircraft to order. What was special about the plane, realized over time, was that its longer range than the 727 allowed it to operate both cross country (and Hawaii) flights and short transatlantic flights.
United Airlines Boeing 757
Transatlantic Westbounds during the winter have always pushed the capability of the aircraft. United has been a big transatlantic 757 operator, and gained a reputation back in the Continental days for operating focus cities in Goose Bay and Gander because of how often there would be multiple planes on the ground in Canada for refueling when faced with significant headwinds during their journey.
The Boeing 737 MAX 10 is relatively underpowered, while it has the range for a transcon and possibly to do a limited number of Newark – Europe flights, it isn’t quite a 757 replacement.
Boeing has been expected to develop their “New Mid-market Airplane (NMA)” sometimes referred to as the 797 which would be placed between their largest and longest-range narrowbody and smallest widebody. It’s not expected to enter commercial service until 2025 at the earliest.
Airbus already has an entrant into this market, the A321XLR. American Airlines ordered 50 of those for delivery between 2023 and 2025.
Airbus has a head start, and orders, but United is seriously considering both aircraft types for its fleet even though Boeing commitment to the plane isn’t firm publicly yet.
While there has been speculation around United being a customer it isn’t real yet — but JonNYC believes United sees themselves as a real potential customer (which has been speculated, but still news).
Reconfiguring Boeing 777s
Back in 2006 United Airlines introduced lie flat seats onto their long haul aircraft. They were late to lie flat business class, and the seats weren’t very competitive. The United Boeing 777s (2-4-2) had eight-abreast seating in business class, which of course British Airways still has today.
Those planes were uncompetitive flying internationally, but well suited for heavily-trafficked domestic flights. In 2016 they took some of the legacy United 777-200s and added seats to coach (and took out seat beck entertainment screens). They went from 3-3-3 in economy to 3-4-3. In total they added nearly 100 seats to the aircraft. They’re found largely on domestic hub-to-hub routes and Hawaii flights.
JonNYC says United is looking at changing these Boeing 777s again:
also maybe some kinda change to configuration for the "domestic" 777s
— JonNYC (@xJonNYC) September 4, 2019
It’s hard to imagine too many more changes to coach. Is it possible to squeeze some more seats in back with less space? Sure. But it seems like the area where they haven’t made changes is up front to business class, which retains United’s old 2-4-2 “dorm style” business class.
If they retain these planes as domestic aircraft, I’d be surprised to see the airline investing in a better business class. On the other hand could they somehow densify the forward cabin beyond the way seats are already crammed in?