United Airlines Expects Less Than 15% Of Flights To Be 70% Full

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In an attempt to boost passenger confidence and enforce social distancing onboard flights, United Airlines is restricting the number of passengers on each flight. As a result, fewer than 15% of flights are operating at anything more than 70% capacity. The airline is using technology to maximize the amount of space between passengers. A texting service will also inform passengers if a flight is at over 70% capacity. Passengers on busy flights are then offered the opportunity to switch to a different flight.

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United Airlines is testing passengers if their flight is operating at over 70% capacity. Photo: United News Hub

United’s Automated Assistant

United Airlines has launched a new chat function that allows passengers to check the health and safety features of their upcoming flight as well as ask a question. Passengers can check if they need to wear a mask, check touchless check-in, and boarding procedures using the new service. The airline is also using the service to inform passengers if their flight has over 70% filled seats.

In an announcement today, the airline said it was trying to limit the number of passengers per flight to minimize contact between people. United is using larger planes with more seats on 66 trips per day to facilitate this. According to the airline, the percentage of occupied seats on flights “was 38% in May; 57% in June and is expected to be about 45% in July, with less than 15% of flights operating with more than 70% seats filled.”

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United has been using Boeing 777s on domestic routes because the larger capacity allows for more social distancing. Photo: United Airlines

Larger planes allow for social distancing

United’s policy of using larger planes on routes is one being echoed by many airlines. Understandably, social distancing when onboard is relatively tricky. However, with such a significant drop in demand, airlines have planes to spare, giving them the luxury of using larger planes on routes that don’t usually need them.

United has been using a mix of Boeing 777s and 787s on domestic routes. United’s 777-300s are configured with 350 seats, including 204 in economy. Compare this to the 166-seater Boeing 737-800, which United typically flies on domestic routes.

The larger jets are being used on destinations such as San Francisco, Cancun, Denver, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Chicago. The airline is also using temporarily replacing some smaller regional jets with slightly larger single-aisle planes.

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Customer confidence and health and safety

Combining new health and safety measures with larger jets, United hopes to both encourage customer confidence and ensure the safety of both passengers and staff. Linda Jojo, Executive Vice President for Technology and Chief Digital Officer, said,

The travel experience has changed a lot from just a few months ago – we’ve overhauled our safety and cleaning procedures, and this new text functionality makes it easier for our customers to stay informed.”

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Despite warning passengers of busy flights, United has found most people do not want to change their travel plans. Photo: Getty Images

While the text service and extra cleaning can be implemented as long-term measures, however, using larger jets to ensure flights are not at maximum capacity will only be a short-term measure. As demand grows, more planes will return to service, and the larger jets will be used for long-haul flights to Asia once more.

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Once demand increases and United sees more and more flights operating at over 70% capacity, we may see a change in their social distancing strategy. However, the airline has said that the “overwhelming majority” of people who were contacted did not change their plans. Perhaps, airlines are taking more precautions than travelers need when flying.

What do you think of United’s new service? Would you change your pans if you knew your flights was busy? Is United too cautious? Let us know your thought in the comments.  

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