To further meet customers’ needs and provide more options to price-sensitive travelers, the company announced the introduction of Basic Economy fares. This new offering provides customers the option of paying the lowest fares to their destinations, while still receiving the same standard economy experience, including food, beverage, Wi-Fi and personal device entertainment, with a few key differences. Customers who choose Basic Economy will be assigned seats on the day of departure, be assigned to boarding group five and be permitted only one personal carry-on item that must fit under the seat. The new offering provides the added benefit for customers and employees of simplifying the boarding process, as fewer customers will bring overhead bags on board. Complete details on Basic Economy can be found at united.com/basiceconomy.
“Customers have told us that they want more choice and Basic Economy delivers just that,” said Julia Haywood, executive vice president and chief commercial officer. “By offering low fares while also offering the experience of traveling on our outstanding network, with a variety of onboard amenities and great customer service, we are giving our customers an additional travel option from what United offers today.”
In addition to Basic Economy, United will continue to offer economy, Economy Plus and domestic first class, and it remains on track to introduce its reimagined international premium travel experience, United Polaris, on December 1. The company is evaluating a new premium economy experience for domestic and international markets.
Optimize Network and Revenue Management
The company also announced its plans to fully optimize its network potential by continuing to leverage its leading international position while strengthening its domestic network, including improving the bank structures at key hubs in Chicago, Houston, and Newark/New York, and further improving both schedules and product in top business markets.
In addition, United is improving its revenue management system to more accurately forecast demand to better maximize profitability on each flight. The company expects these system improvements to drive $900 million of incremental revenue by 2019.
“We have the best people and network, with ever-improving products, and importantly have the most opportunity to improve our margins among our industry peers,” said Scott Kirby, president. “As we strengthen both our domestic and international networks, we will ensure we are offering our customers the right flights to the right destinations at the right time.”
Adjusting Aircraft Order Book
The company announced a modification to its narrowbody order book. The company is converting its original order for 65 737-700 aircraft into 4 737-800 aircraft to be delivered in 2017 while the remaining 61 will be converted into orders for 737 MAX aircraft, with delivery dates to be determined. These changes will allow United to take advantage of the superior fuel efficiency of the MAX aircraft while also reducing capital expenditures by approximately $1.6 billion through 2018.
In addition, the company has agreed to purchase 24 Embraer 175 aircraft from Embraer, instead of leasing these aircraft through a capacity purchase agreement as was originally planned. These aircraft will be leased to third party carriers operating as United Express.
“The realignment of our order book shifts our focus to ensuring our capital investments support earnings growth. We will continue to look at profitable opportunities in the new and used aircraft market to generate the highest ROIC,” said Andrew Levy, executive vice president and chief financial officer. “We have made important investments in our people and product this year, and will continue to make investments in the business to ensure increased profitability while maintaining a strong balance sheet.”
Continued Strong Cost Control
The company will continue its rigorous cost management program and expects 2017 unit costs to grow 3.5% to 4.5% excluding fuel. The company expects 2018-2020 unit costs excluding fuel to grow less than 1% per year due in part to its plan to remove $700 millionof costs by 2020, as compared to 2015 levels.
Building on Current Success
United has made significant progress in operational reliability, with an improvement of nearly 10 percentage points year-to-date in on-time departures. The company plans to further improve performance with a specific focus on decreasing the time it takes to turn narrowbody aircraft, continuing to reduce long delays and cancellations, and executing on previously announced fleet reliability measures.
The company also is accelerating its mobile strategy, including next steps for its award-winning mobile app, which has more than 14 million downloads, expanding the types of transactions customers can make throughout their journey, including managing documentation for international travel and expanded rebooking options. In addition, the company made further progress this year in providing mobile tools to the majority of its operational employees.
United currently has ratified agreements for all of its employee groups, with the exception of its technicians, who are represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The technicians are expected to vote on their contract before the end of the year.