United Airlines had a great opportunity to share further details about its upcoming “Premium Plus” premium economy cabin during the analyst briefing held earlier this week. Unfortunately scant few details emerged from the event. EVP & Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella briefly spoke to the market segmentation efforts involved and some of what passengers can expect from the product, “a better experience, which includes more food and more leg room and more comfort.” That’s vague.
The new product – presumed to be the MiQ seat from Rockwell Collins (nee B/E Aerospace) – will launch on the 787-10 with deliveries expected later in 2018. From there the rollout across the wide-body fleet will progress. Nocella did share that the expected timeline for the deployment is roughly three years.
It will take about three years to fully roll out across our international system. There’s a lot of aircraft to convert, but in three years’ time, we’ll have this product out there and I think it’s going to be a great home run.
Rumored configuration of the 787-10 has slightly fewer business class seats than the 787-9, confirming concerns voiced by some parties that the new Premium Plus cabin will cannibalize some business class sales. No doubt that is accurate, though it will also stimulate some up-sell from economy class travelers who want a slightly better travel experience without the larger price differential to the flat bed product. Delta Air Lines an American Airlines saw similar shifts and, in some cases, shrank the premium cabins more than United’s to make room for premium economy. Nocella called attention to United’s ability to work with its Joint Venture partners in sharing data about the segmentation premium economy presents:
We worked with our alliance partners ANA and Lufthansa as they really understand how this works, how many people are going to buy it from coach, how many people are going to buy down from business class and we also think this is going to be a big home run for United Airlines.
The deployment timeline is relatively slow compared to American Airlines’ efforts. AA launched its product in May 2017 and will complete its deployment by the end of 2018. Admittedly, AA’s twin-aisle fleet is significantly smaller than the aircraft count United is converting. And, justifiably, there are questions about whether United will hold to its conversion timeline. Other recent modification projects have not managed such.
Announcing a new product is a tricky business. Customers will want to know that it is real, not just vaporware. United got burned by that with the heavy Polaris marketing push accompanied by minimal aircraft and lounge conversions in the first year the product existed. At the same time, letting the speculation run rampant around what will and will not be included in the new offering doesn’t do much to help the brand. Even just a better photo/rendering than the tiny thumbnail being shared would be beneficial.
Lacking those details one can surmise a 2-3-2 layout on the 787, a 2-4-2 arrangement on the 777s and a 2-2-2 plan on the 767s. A three row cabin is probably the correct ratio of seats overall for the aircraft. The 767s will be premium economy heavy and the 777-300s a little light, but overall the numbers should work.
Presumably the company will deliver more details as the 787-10 delivery date gets closer.