United Airlines Uluslararası Ribaundlarda Premiumda Yükseliyor
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United Airlines Uluslararası Ribaundlarda Premiumda Yükseliyor

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United Airlines is looking out at the world with a lot of optimism. Speaking on the carrier’s fourth-quarter earnings call, executives expressed a significant amount of confidence in the airline’s performance internationally, especially in the case of premium travel and premium leisure space. This outlook continues after over a year of the airline expressing its confidence in the overall market for premium international travel.

United Airlines Uluslararası Ribaundlarda Premiumda Yükseliyor
United Airlines has made its bet on premium travel and international operations, and it thus far expects this trend to continue. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

United stays bullish on international

At one time, United’s international network appeared to be a huge liability. As the world shut down in February and March of 2020, United’s extensive international network shut down, and it was unclear when international restrictions would ease or what the travel world would even look like.

As domestic travel returned and the vaccines rolled out in late 2020 and early 2021, airlines started to keep an eye on international markets and the potential for countries to reopen. By April, only three major European destinations opened up, and United added flights to all three. However, even before those countries announced they would reopen, United expressed optimism over its international footprint ileriye doğru

That bullishness has continued. Speaking on Thursday, Andrew Nocella, United’s Chief Commercial Officer, stated the following on its 2022 plans:

“We’ve definitely pointed a lot of incremental capacity across the Atlantic for this spring and summer in anticipation of this recovery. I can tell you, in fact, we’re booked ahead from a passenger and revenue perspective on those flights this spring and summer already. And so, we’re ready to get flying. We do need to get past this latest Omicron wave, but we feel really good about the future.”

United B787 SFO
United has kept its widebody fleet intact during the crisis. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

United keeps its focus on premium

Even in the international sphere, United Airlines has made a big bet on its international premium footprint for a number of reasons. One of which, according to Mr. Nocella, is the following:

“We also believe that there’s been significant structural changes. Smaller business class cabins coming in from the United States and in fact, fewer flights. Many of those larger A380s and 747s have been retired by our competitors, and this sets us up incredibly well for the future year.”

In many ways, United is right. Just looking at flights across the Atlantic, British Airways, AIr France, and Lufthansa are just a few carriers that have retired large widebody aircraft. Alitalia ceased operations and ITA Airways, trying to get back in shape, is a relatively small player. In the lower-cost world, Norwegian has pulled out of transatlantic service. All of this translates to fewer seats, and fewer premium seats between the US and Europe. United will be adding more premium economy seats to the world with plans to put it on its remaining Boeing 767-300ERs and all Airbus A321XLRs.

United Airlines Uluslararası Ribaundlarda Premiumda Yükseliyor
One of United’s major bets is its Polaris business class cabin. Photo: United

United did not retire any widebody aircraft during the crisis. As a result, it is sitting on more aircraft in 2022 than it had in 2019, enabling it to launch an incredible amount of new long-haul service, including flights to five new international destinations and plans to launch five more routes. This is on top of an expansion of service to London-Heathrow.

A strategy that will be tested

In 2022, that strategy will certainly be tested. As United continues to roll out its “United Next” strategy that puts more premium seats on planes and grows its domestic network gauge, all of which should also help push up premium connections on international flights.

Birleşik MAX 8
United will take over 50 MAX jets this year, which will be one of the backbone aircraft for its long-term strategy. Photo: Getty Images

However, this is incremental and largely would only help push up the airline’s run-up to the recovery, given that a large number of its hubs with major long-haul international service with significant business class capacity are also hubs with a lot of local premium demand. Think about San Francisco, which is a major hub for tech companies, while Newark is United’s gateway for travel from the seemingly bottomless pit of premium demand that is New York City.

The real question, however, will be how things look in a few years. Consumer spending trends significantly changed in 2020 and 2021, and that has led some to hypothesize that it gives customers more money to use on things like travel. However, what those trends look like in five, six, or seven years, when United Next will hit its peak implementation, remains an open question.

For now, United is still expecting its premium positioning to be the right one for 2022 and one that it expects to pay off in the long run.

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