United Airlines is in the midst of deploying more business class seating in the trans-Atlantic

28 January, 2020

United Airlines plans to grow business class capacity in its trans-Atlantic markets by nearly 20% during the first half of this year as part of an effort to drive maximum returns in its global network.

Company chief commercial officer Andrew Nocella offered that update in a recent discussion with analyst and investors, concluding, "We had, in the past, undersized business class cabins in key business markets like London Heathrow and Switzerland, while offering too many economy cabin seats. We're now rightsizing the size of our premium cabins."

Mr Nocella concluded that adding more business class capacity is "yet another initiative proven to helps achieve our full network potential".

2020 will also "be a big year" for United's Polaris business class, said Mr Nocella. The airline plans to finish most of the Polaris seating installations and Polaris Clubs. The Polaris Club at Washington Dulles airports is scheduled to open in the US spring season. By year-end, 90% of United's widebody jets will have the new Polaris seats, including all of its Boeing 777s and 767-300s.

From 8-May and beyond, all 55 of United 777-200ERs will have new Polaris and new Premium Plus seats available for sale, said Mr Nocella. Polaris retrofits of the airline's 767-400ERs are scheduled to begin this year.

United debuted its latest version of premium economy, Premium Plus, earlier in 2019, and Mr Nocella remarked that the product is "ideally suited for our hub markets", and created a 0.6ppt tailwind for United's system passenger unit revenue (PRASM) in 4Q2019, which in total increased by 0.8% year-on-year, led by Latin America with an increase of 6.3%.

United is now selling Premium Plus seats on select flights between New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco "and are and are seeing great results. Our analysis suggests that Premium Plus is having minimal impact on demand for Polaris business class seats", Mr Nocella concluded.

Looking back at the trans-Atlantic, CAPA - Centre for Aviation research of OAG schedule data shows that United's share of capacity into Europe from the United States of America (USA) this summer will be up on a year-on-year basis, peaking at 13.2% in late Jun-2020 and early Jul-2020. United is currently the largest operator in this market by capacity, but Delta Air Lines will shortly regain that position, according to the analysis.

CHART - United Airlines will have around a 13% share of total weekly seat capacity between USA and Europe this summerSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG (as at 27-Jan-2020)