United Continental will spend $US550 million ($A529 million) to install flat-bed seats, add legroom in some rows and expand overhead-bin space on more planes in its largest aircraft upgrade since the company was formed last year.
The improvements, which also include streaming wireless video on its Boeing 747-400 jets, will begin this year and occur as the airline adds 25 new planes in 2012, Chief Executive Officer Jeff Smisek said yesterday in Denver.
The world's biggest carrier, formed by the October merger of United and Continental airlines, is standardizing products and services across its fleet of about 1260 planes.
Adding flat-bed seats to more long-haul planes on international routes, as well as first-class sections to smaller aircraft used out of US hubs, may win more business travellers, who usually pay the highest fares.
"We are planning many other product enhancements, both on the ground and in the air, which we will announce in the future," Smisek said in a statement.
The Chicago-based airline said it will add flat-bed seats and on-demand audio and video programming to the premium cabins of 26 Boeing 767s and add Economy Plus seating to 12 767-400s from Continental's fleet. Passengers can pay more to get an Economy Plus seat, which provides as much as five additional inches of legroom. Charges range from $US9 to $US163 each way, depending on flight length.
Flight test: United Airlines Economy Plus
United Continental also plans to continue upgrades to cabins for all three classes on its Boeing 777s, installing flat-bed seats and improved in-flight entertainment. Planes used for p.s. premium service flights from New York to San Francisco and Los Angeles will be updated to include flat-bed seats, Economy Plus, on-demand audio and video, Wi-Fi service and power outlets at each seat.
The airline expects to complete flat-bed installations on the 767s in 2012 and on the 777s in the first quarter of 2013, said Julie King, a spokeswoman.
United Continental will begin installing Economy Plus seats on all Continental mainline jets this year, with plans to complete 38 by the end of 2011 and almost 100 more by the end of 2012's first quarter. The airline is adding first-class and Economy Plus seating to 29 Bombardier Q400 turboprop regional aircraft flown under the United Express name.
Overhead-bin space on 152 Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft will double under work that starts next March, the airline said.