One of the larger merger related unanswered questions between United Airlines and Continental Airlines is the decision on whether or not to keep a three-cabin product offering for international flights. Continental for some time has only offered a “BusinessFirst” product, a hybrid of sorts between First Class and Business Class, whereas United has maintained the full three-cabin product differentiation.
The ultimate decision will come down to profitability & economics, no doubt, and the most likely outcome is that United will continue offering First Class where appropriate, but use the Continental two-cabin configuration on most international routes. I’ve been monitoring each carrier’s announcements regarding their individual progress updates on existing aircraft conversions to lie-flat seating, and believe United might be closer to revealing an announcement regarding the overall product offering.
There used to be a dedicated page on United.com with updates showing the conversion progress of United’s existing international aircraft, with all Boeing 747 and 767 having been completed. The 777 is the workhorse for much of United’s international flying, and the combined carrier has a total of 74 of the twin-engine long-haul jets in operation. The page used to provide a progress bar showing exactly how many aircraft have been converted and those that remain. Last week, the detailed results were removed, and instead the following statement appears:
When you visit the new link it reads, “We are continuing our progress on expanding the United international premium travel experience across our fleet. Check back for more information about our international United First® and United Business® cabins in the coming months.” Also included is a brief overview of the premium travel experience, along with links to full descriptions of the United Business & United First Suite products.
This is pure speculation, of course, but the wording on the former “Suite Dreams” page and this new Lie Flat page, along with removing the progress of United’s existing 777 conversions, leads me to believe international First Class will either be totally eliminated, or market specific (perhaps Hong Kong, Tokyo & Sydney). I do predict, though, that the official announcement will arrive by summer’s end.