United Could Follow American With Early 757 & 767 Retirement

United Airlines has been reported to be potentially following in the footsteps of its rival American Airlines in retiring some portions of its fleet. In response to the current travel crisis, the airline has said that its 50-seater regional jets will not be making a return to service. It could also look to phase out its 757s and 767s too, although President Scott Kirby has been keen to stress that fleet flexibility is key.

United Airlines 767
United Airlines could phase out its 767s and 757s if the crisis persists. Photo: United Airlines

Early retirements becoming more common

The impact of the coronavirus crisis is being shown to cut much deeper than just revenue losses. As well as airlines struggling to make ends meet, we’re also seeing the rapid disappearance of many older aircraft.

In just the past week, Virgin Atlantic has phased out its last A340s, American Airlines has revealed plans for the early retirement of 105 aircraft and Dutch airline KLM has said goodbye to its Boeing 747s. Now, it looks like we could be bidding farewell to a number of other older and somewhat iconic aircraft, as United Airlines is contemplating the removal of its Boeing 757s and 767s amid the current travel slump.

The Boeing 767-300ER painted in the new United livery. Photo: United Airlines via Twitter

If the US mainline carrier does go ahead with this plan, it would be joining its friendly rival American Airlines in an early phasing out of the types. AA has set out plans to retire its 757s starting in May this year, and may have already operated its last revenue flight with a Boeing 767.

The Boeings would be first to go

The Points Guy reports that United Airlines is suffering huge losses as a result of the downturn in travel demand. It says that the carrier’s revenue is down by more than $100m a day, and that those aircraft which are left flying are operating at load factors of just 15%.

As such, the carrier is cutting schedules by some 70% and is seeking to secure some of the $25bn of grants which have been made available by the US government for employee compensation. While there are no firm plans to retire any aircraft permanently, President Scott Kirby said that, should they decided to do so, the old Boeings would be first to go.

United Airlines 757
The 757s could be some of the first to go. Photo: Getty Images

Planespotters suggests that United has around 800 aircraft in its fleet, almost 300 of which are currently parked. The narrowbody workhorse Boeing 757s, of which it has 72, average 21.8 years of age, although some members of the fleet are approaching or even more than 30 years old. The 767s number 54 and are mostly between 20 and 30 years old.

No snap decisions

At a ‘virtual town hall’ meeting held by United executives, Kirby was keen to emphasize the need for flexibility in future fleet planning, saying,

“If we want to emerge stronger, if we want to emerge the world’s leading airline on the other side of this, we have to have flexibility.”

This, he said, includes having aircraft ready to return to service, and not making any snap decisions on permanent retirements. Some of United’s 767s have undergone a refit to a premium heavy configuration, featuring no less than 46 Polaris business class seats. The planes had been servicing the popular transatlantic route between London and New York.

United Polaris
Some of United’s 767s have a huge number of Polaris seats on board. Photo: United Airlines

As such, the airline is not keen to retire them without good cause, but could have its hand forced if the situation persists long into the year. However, some firm retirement plans are in place, notably for its unpopular all-economy 50 seat jets, which include the CRJ200 and the ERJ-145. Kirby noted that passengers don’t like these planes, and that they will be unlikely to make a return to service once the crisis is over.

Will you be glad to see the smaller jets go? Would you like to see the end of the 757s and 767s too? Let us know in the comments.