Bucking Trends United’s Fleet Grew By 35 Planes In 2020 With More Coming

In crisis mode, United Airlines has done the opposite of most of its full-service peers and held onto its large fleet. In fact, United Airlines grew its fleet by 35 jets in 2020, ending the year with over 810 jets and more than 30 more expected to enter the airline’s fleet this year. This will out the airline ahead of Delta in fleet count and approaching American’s fleet count.

United Boeing 767
United’s fleet grew in 2020, bucking its competitors’ trends and bringing the airline to the second largest fleet of major US airlines. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

United’s fleet in 2020

At the end of 2020, United Airlines operated a fleet of 812 jets. Comprised mostly of Boeing jets, the airline’s average fleet age hit 16 years as the airline decided instead to hold onto its older jets. The overall fleet included the following aircraft:

  • 85 Airbus A319s
  • 96 Airbus A320s
  • 49 Boeing 737-700s
  • 141 Boeing 737-800s
  • 12 Boeing 737-900s
  • 136 Boeing 737-900ERs
  • 22 Boeing 737 MAX 9s
  • 40 Boeing 757-200s
  • 21 Boeing 757-300s
  • 38 Boeing 767-300ERs
  • 16 Boeing 767-400ERs
  • 12 Boeing 787-8s
  • 35 Boeing 787-9s
  • 13 Boeing 787-10s
  • 19 Boeing 777-200s
  • 55 Boeing 777-200ERs
  • 22 Boeing 777-300ERs

The major changes in this were the reduction of 13 Boeing 757-200s and growth in other aircraft fleet types and one Airbus A320.

United 777-300ER
United took its final two Boeing 777-300ERs in 2020. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

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Where did United grow its fleet?

United added five Airbus A319s in 2020, eight Boeing 737-700s, ten Boeing 787-9s, two Boeing 787-10s, and the final two Boeing 777-300ERs United had on order.

Most airlines deferred delivery of aircraft and completely altered their order books. United made some changes to its order book, but it maintained a robust one.

United 787-10
On the long-haul front, United’s 787 fleet grew. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

United’s aircraft orders

United Airlines has firm commitments for well over 200 aircraft. Just today, the airline announced it had expanded its order for Boeing 737 MAX, adding 25 new jets to order book for delivery in 2023. In addition, another 40 MAX jets are expected to arrive in 2022, representing a sizable narrowbody aircraft increase.

United also maintains an order fo 50 AIrbus A321XLRs, the narrowbody extra-long-range aircraft set to change American aviation, and the airline is more than excited to take these jets and look at replacing its Boeing 757-200 aircraft.

United Boeing 787
United is still awaiting some Boeing 787s. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

There is also the order for 45 Airbus A350 aircraft, which have been deferred out to the late 2020s, and there has been little discussion from United on that order.

The airline also has 11 outstanding Boeing 787 Dreamliners due this year and another four Embraer E175s for its regional operations.

However, on the used aircraft front, United Airlines also had additional orders. The carrier has an agreement to purchase 11 used Boeing 737-700 jets due this year. The airline also had an agreement to purchase 17 used Airbus A319 jets, but it has decided to sell off those aircraft once acquired with expected delivery dates in 2021 and 2022.

United Airbus A319
United has an order for used A319s, but it plans on selling those jets instead of using them for operations. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Taking on used aircraft is relatively common in the airline industry. Airlines typically take on used jets when they need more aircraft but do not want to pay the price of a new jet or need them faster than an aircraft manufacturer can provide a new aircraft.

Why it makes sense for United to keep its larger fleet

United Airlines has fallen behind some of its peers when it comes to its domestic network gauge. Given how important the airline’s domestic network is to supporting United’s international network.

United Boeing 787
United Airlines is working on a gauge increase. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

So, by keeping its fleet, United can ensure it has the aircraft it needs to close some of those gaps and increase its domestic market share and strengthen its hub networks. The airline is especially keen on bolstering its mid-continent hubs and also getting its coastal gateway hubs ready for the return of air travel.

Do you think United’s plan to keep a large fleet is a good one? Are you surprised that United grew its fleet in 2020? Let us know in the comments!