United Airlines’ revamped cabins faces supply chain delays

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United Airlines Seatbacks

Courtesy: United Airlines

United Airlines‘ plan to revamp the cabins on its older narrow-body planes is running behind schedule because of supply chain strains, the carrier told CNBC this week. The upgrades include bigger premium cabins, seat-back entertainment screens throughout the planes, Bluetooth capabilities and other amenities.

The Chicago-based airline previously expected to have 100 of its narrow-body planes retrofitted with the new interiors by the end of the year but now expects 60 will be complete by then, a spokeswoman said.

“The reality is the supply challenges across the board whether it be [inflight entertainment] systems, chips, seats and many other things are just more challenging than they’ve ever been in our business,” United’s chief commercial officer, Andrew Nocella, said on an earnings call last week.

United unveiled the overhauled cabins in June 2021 on the heels of an order for 270 new Boeing and Airbus narrow-body planes, an effort to refresh its brand as airlines compete for passengers in the travel rebound, particularly big spenders.

United has also said it expects to have more premium seats for sale for each departure than any other airline in North America by 2026 as travelers compete for what can be elusive upgrades and the ranks of elite travelers with piles of frequent flyer points swell.

United’s Nocella said last week that the carrier will have multiple production lines revamping the interiors of the narrow-body planes this summer, helping to pick up the pace.

The carrier expects about one in three aircraft in its narrow-body fleet, including new aircraft, will have the upgraded interior by the end of the year.

“It will just take a little bit longer than we had originally intended,” he said. A United Airbus A319 was recently modified and should be flying soon, he added.

The airline had targeted 2025 to complete the narrow-body upgrades, but it’s unclear if United will make that goal.

Separately, United said that all of its wide-body aircraft will be outfitted with premium economy seats and its Polaris seats, the carrier’s top-tier class on international and other long-haul flights, by August.

Other airlines like JetBlue and Delta Air Lines have also added amenities on their planes in recent years, upgrading their top-tier classes, installing new seats and adding some services, including free Wi-Fi.

Delta executives have said that revenue growth for premium seats like business class or premium economy has outpaced sales from standard coach.

“We see high stickiness to those products,” Glen Hauenstein, Delta’s president, said on the company’s quarterly call earlier this month. “So once you start flying in those cabins, you tend not to go back.”

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