United is lagging behind its competitors in launching international premium economy. But this is something it needs to do, if only because of competitive dynamics.
United Airlines intends to add a premium economy section with comfortable recliner seats on long-haul aircraft soon, matching a product already offered by American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, its two main competitors.
United will call the cabin Premium Plus, and it will feature several free perks business class travelers usually receive, including meals served on china, alcoholic beverages, a Saks Fifth Avenue blanket and pillow, and an amenity kit. In an internal note, later put on the company blog, United said it will “begin to introduce” the product later this year, though it’s not clear on what flights or routes.
United’s seat is expected to be similar, if not identical, to the recliners Delta and American already fly. Both competitors have seats that are nearly identical to U.S. domestic first class, with seats about 18 or 19 inches wide, with roughly 38 inches of pitch.
Delta introduced its Premium Select cabin late last year on its new Airbus A350s, which fly some of its longest routes, often to Asia, and plans to add the cabin on its Boeing 777s. Last month, Delta executives told investors that on the Detroit to Tokyo Narita route, the first with premium economy, the product had an 85 percent load factor during its first month, with an average fare at 1.7 times coach.
American also started selling Premium Economy last year, with its Boeing 777-200s and Boeing 787-9s getting it first, followed by Boeing 777-300ERs and Airbus A330-200s.
United should debut its version just as it ends first class service on long-haul routes. Some of United’s Boeing 767-300s and Boeing 777-200s still have a true first class cabin, a relic from before United’s merger with Continental Airlines. Under the new cabin arrangement, United will again have three classes, but they’ll be different — business class, premium economy, and economy class.
A United spokeswoman declined to add information about the airline’s plans for Premium Plus, saying “we will have additional details to share at a later date.”
Also, United intends to soon commit to customers that it will open four Polaris lounges for long-haul business class customers later this year, according to employee communications.
The lounges have been delayed due to construction problems, and recently United removed expected opening dates from its website, leading some to ask if any lounges would open in 2018. But United now plans to tell customers that lounges in San Francisco, Newark, and Houston will open this summer, with Los Angeles coming this fall.
The lounges, which are more opulent than United’s typical clubs, feature shower suites, rest pods with day beds, and preflight dining.
United’s only existing lounge, in Chicago, has been so popular it often has been overcrowded, forcing the airline to expand it.
Photo credit: United soon intends to add premium economy on its long-haul airplanes. It's not clear which planes will get it, but the Boeing 777-200 pictured here seems like a good candidate. AeroIcarus / Flickr