United Just Placed a Massive Order for Boeing Wide-Body Planes—What This Means for Future United Flights

It’s the largest wide-body aircraft order in U.S. commercial aviation history, according to the carrier, and is part of an ambitious growth plan that will see 700 new airplanes join United’s fleet over the next decade.

United is investing big in long-haul travel.

United is investing big in long-haul travel.

Shutterstock

United Airlines announced Tuesday that it has ordered 100 wide-body Boeing 787 Dreamliners with the option to purchase 100 more—or 200 total (United will have its choice of the 787-8, 9, or 10 models). The carrier will take delivery of the new 787s over the course of eight years, between 2024 and 2032.

The news comes after Boeing cleared a key hurdle with federal regulators this past July, allowing the aircraft manufacturer to resume its deliveries of the 787, which had suffered from a series of production setbacks dating back to late 2020.

Ranging from 248 to 336 passengers, United’s 787s feature four service classes: United Polaris business class, United Premium Plus, Economy Plus, and economy. The most coveted are the United Polaris business-class seats, all of which have aisle access and come with perks like Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, Away amenity kits, 16-inch seatback screens, and noise-reducing headphones. For long-haul flights, United Premium Plus seats offer a solid upgrade as well, with a six-inch recline and 13-inch seatback screens.

United isn’t simply buying new planes; it is also plowing ahead with upgrades to the interiors of its existing aircraft. By summer 2023, the carrier plans to feature United Polaris business-class seats and United Premium Plus seating on all of its international wide-bodies. And the interiors of all of United’s mainline, narrow-body planes will be updated by 2025.

In addition to the 787 Dreamliners, United also has the option to purchase 44 Boeing 737 Max aircraft that would be delivered between 2024 and 2026 with 56 more Boeing 737 Max airplanes on order for between 2027 and 2028. Boeing 737 Max planes were given the green light to return to service in late 2020 after being grounded for two years.

With its new Boeing aircraft commitments, United will take delivery of approximately 700 new airplanes by the end of 2032, including both narrow and wide-body aircraft. The pace of delivery will be particularly rapid the next two years, with United anticipating receiving more than two aircraft weekly in 2023 (on average) and an average of more than three planes being delivered every week in 2024.

The best seats in the house? United's Polaris business class seats.

The best seats in the house? United’s Polaris business class seats.

Courtesy of United Airlines

So, what’s United going to do with all these new planes?

Cleaner, greener flying

The good news is that as these newer aircraft begin to take flight, United will be replacing older, less-efficient aircraft with the new planes. Boeing reports that the 787 Dreamliners result in 25 percent lower carbon emissions per seat compared with the aircraft they replace, thanks to improved engine technology, lighter-weight materials, more efficient operating systems, and more aerodynamic designs. The 787s are also a lot quieter than their predecessors.

About 100 older Boeing 767 and Boeing 777 aircraft will be replaced with new wide-body aircraft, and United’s goal is to remove all 767s from its fleet by 2030.

Flying more efficient aircraft will help United on its ambitious path to carbon neutrality, which it (along with all other major U.S. carriers) is aiming to achieve by 2050. The other keys to arriving at that goal will be investing heavily in sustainable aviation fuel and in carbon-capture technologies.

Expanded international routes

With more wide-body planes will come more new international routes, but exactly which ones remain to be seen. United plans “to continue to grow its global network,” the carrier stated on Tuesday.

While United did not offer any suggestions about where it plans to fly with the new aircraft, it emphasized its focus on “strategic gateways to international destinations across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Latin America.”

United has added 13 new international destinations and 40 new international routes over the past two years and will fly nonstop to 37 cities in Europe, Africa, India, and the Middle East by summer 2023. The airline will also serve 20 transpacific routes as of the start of 2023, including new flights to Japan from Newark International Airport in New Jersey (to Haneda) and the relaunch of service from San Francisco to Osaka. Starting in March, United will offer a new nonstop flight between Newark and Dubai, thanks to a new partnership with Emirates.

What about staffing shortages?

With so many new planes coming online and the airline industry having faced crippling staffing shortages this year as travel rebounded, how does United plan to find the crew and staff for all this added capacity?

According to the airline, it hired 15,000 people this year and is on track to add another 15,000 in 2023.

“United continues to see strong interest in pilot roles, from military and civilian backgrounds as well as from other carriers. In 2022, the airline hired about 2,400 pilots and plans to add more than 2,500 pilots in 2023, with a goal to add 10,000 pilots this decade,” United said in a statement.

United created a new United Aviate Academy earlier this year, which has a goal of training 5,000 new pilots by 2030—the aim is for half of those trainees to be women or people of color.

The carrier also expects to hire more than 4,000 flight attendants in 2023 and is staffing up on aircraft mechanics, technicians, customer service representatives, and gate agents as well.

Associated Press contributed reporting.

Michelle Baran is the senior travel news editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, pandemic coverage, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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