United Airlines is ready to fight for US business travellers plying the prime east-west route following the upgrade of its entire 'p.s. Premium Service' fleet to include lie-flat beds.
United has revamped all 15 of the Boeing 757s dedicated to the p.s. service which shuttles travellers between Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.
The 28 business class seats in the BusinessFirst cabin offer 1.9 metres of lie-flat sleeping space and sport a 16 inch screen for video on demand...
... along with individual AC power sockets and USB ports.
The move comes as United suits up for a 'transcontinental turf war' with Qantas partner American Airlines and JetBlue both launching new premium cabins with lie-flat beds onto the bi-coastal route in 2014.
Delta Air Lines, which already boasts flat beds in the BusinessElite cabin of its transcontinental flights, also plans to launch three upgraded Boeing 757s onto the route from July 2014, with the aim of having flat bed business class seats on all transcon flights by mid-2015.
United's Smisek is ready to rumble
But United Airlines President & CEO Jeff Smisek isn't fazed, saying "we can easily hold our own against our competitors."
"The transcon market in the United States is of course a very valuable market, that's why it's a really competitive route, but our customers love what we're doing in this market" Smisek told Australian Business Traveller earlier this year on the sidelines of an airline alliance event.
"Our retrofitted p.s. fleet is getting among the highest customer satisfaction ratings of our entire fleet, in fact the only aircraft that's rating higher than that is the Boeing 787" Smisek said.
However, Smisek had to make one concession in order to shape up for the looming dogfight: for the first time, United's p.s. fleet includes an economy cabin, with 66 cut-price seats.
"There's a broad range of travellers on this market and although the premium traveller remains very valued, there are people who can't afford to pay for a flat bed seat in the front and we want to carry them too" Smisek said, adding that the revised three-class configuration of business, premium economy and economy is generating more revenue for us than the old configuration."
All Economy Plus and Economy seats in the p.s. fleet are fitted with 9 inch video screens and have access to AC and USB ports, while faster inflight Internet is available via GoGo’s latest 10Mbps service which is better able to handle the higher useage load on these flights compared to the previous 3Mbps system.
Travellers in Economy Plus also gain two additional inches of pitch compared to the pre-renovation p.s. service.
A mixed bag for business travellers
While the enhanced p.s. flights tick many boxes for the business traveller, US business travel reporter Chris McGinnis says it’s a mixed bag depending on your United MileagePlus status.
“It’s good news if you’ve got gold or higher status because the business class and Economy Plus experience will improve” McGinnis tells Australian Business Traveller.
“It’s bad news for silvers because they’ll have to pay a premium for Economy Plus on the new planes, or suffer for 4-5 hours in standard economy.”
United's put together a neat little infographic (shown below) to spell out what's new in p.s. – click here to download the file [300kb JPEG].
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