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Premium cabin lovers, rejoice! At least if you’re flying United Airlines between Newark Liberty and London Heathrow.
Every United Airlines flight on the route soon will be on the carrier’s newly reconfigured Boeing 767-300ER jets that feature more of the carrier’s ‘Polaris’ lie-flat business-class seats.
Currently, four of United’s five daily London (LHR) flights are on the premium-heavy 767-300ER. Beginning 15 September, all five will feature the so-called “high-J” configuration.
That layout features 16 more Polaris business-class seats than the airline’s other 767 configurations. It also has 22 seats in Premium Plus — United’s new international-style premium economy cabin. In coach, the reconfigured 767-300ERs seat 45 in Economy Plus and 52 in coach.
United says the jet “will feature the highest proportion of premium seats on any widebody aircraft operated by any U.S. carrier.”
The expanded business class cabin, and smaller economy cabin, not only increases the opportunity for traveller upgrades, but creates additional opportunities for United to sell upgrades.
That’s actually part of the thinking, says Patrick Quayle, United’s Vice President International Planning.
Offering the “high-J” configured 767-300ERs is part of a broader strategy to be more competitive between United’s Newark (EWR) hub and London Heathrow. It’s a shift away from the 757 narrow-bodies United once flew on the route. And, now, the new configuration presents even more premium options for high-end customers.
“New York to London Heathrow is the largest premium market in the world,” Quayle says in an interview with The Points Guy. “Previously, United was flying an inferior product on it with 757 narrow-body with the B/E Diamond seat.”
“People weren’t flying us because it was a subpar product on too small of an aircraft,” he adds.
But Quayle says United has been able to move the needle with the “high-J” configuration.
“We’ve now improved the product. We have lie-flats. The number of seats has exponentially improved,” he says. “What we’re trying to attract is the businesswoman and businessman.”
Since United began using the “high-J” configuration on its Newark-London flights, the carrier has already been hearing from customers.
“The feedback has been incredibly positive,” Quayle says. “It allows our businesswomen and businessmen to get availability on the aircraft. There’s also availability for upgrades. Our corporate travelers like to have the last-minute availability and have the ability to upgrade if they want to. This configuration allows that.”
When asked how important it is to balance advance sales of paid Polaris seats versus the desire to have a few open for late-booking customers, Quayle conceded that it’s “more of an art than a science.”
“You want to have the right mix,” he says. “Enough of the cabin sold with fare-paying passengers in advance. (But) you want to have availability toward the end for last-minute traffic. You also want to have a little bit of availability for people to use their miles for upgrades, because that’s how we create value in the MileagePlus program.”
United plans to offer the high-J 767s on all of its flights between Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and Heathrow by year-end, and between Newark and Switzerland in 2020.
Contributing: Ned Russell, TPG. Featured image by Alberto Riva, TPG.
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