United Gets More Seats On Flights By Moving To Narrowbody Jets

United Airlines is making changes to its flights in and out of New York’s John F Kennedy Airport. Since returning to JFK earlier this year, United’s Boeing 767-300 aircraft have serviced the airport. From October 5, United’s operating planes at JFK will switch to Boeing 757-200s.

United Airlines is swapping to Boeing 757-200 aircraft out of JFK in October. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/Simple Flying

More seats overall out of JFK, but fewer premium seats

The upshot is slightly higher capacity planes will operate United’s two sectors to and from JFK. United’s 757-200 seats 169 passengers against 167 passengers carried on the Boeing 767-300. But the 767-300 has far more premium seats than the 757-200. As noted in One Mile At A Time, the reduction in premium seat capacity suggests United’s attempt to tap into the premium transcontinental traffic out of JFK is not going as well as anticipated.

After a six-year absence, United Airlines returned to JFK to fly just two routes – the cross-country runs to Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO). United’s primary New York hub is 33 miles to the west at Newark.

Network-wide, United is trying to snag a larger slice of the lucrative business travel market. Last month, the airline confirmed business travel was rebounding faster than anticipated and is running at about 60% of 2019 levels.

Especially lucrative are the transcontinental routes between the east coast and west coast business hubs. United’s problem was many business travelers preferred JFK over Newark, and it was losing market share and revenue to rival airlines. Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, and American Airlines all have a high-quality premium seat product across to west coast airports from JFK.

United’s Boeing 767-300 will exit JFK in early October. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/Simple Flying

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Market surrender or market realities?

With its Boeing 757-200 planes operating out of JFK, United Airlines will offer far more economy class seats and far fewer premium seats. And the premium seats remaining are, well, less premium. United’s Polaris seats on its 767-300s come in a desirable 1-1-1 layout, whereas the layout on the 757-200 is 2-2.

Whether the switch of aircraft types is a surrender signal from United or an acknowledgment there’s more revenue chasing mainstream economy class passengers is anyone’s guess. But the vast majority of flyers aren’t fussed about aircraft types. Getting hot and sweaty about aircraft types and cabin configs is largely the remit of frequent flyers and airline junkies.

A United Boeing 757-200 climbing out of LAX. Photo: Vincenzo pace/Simple Flying

The nitty-gritty on United’s aircraft swap

United has two daily departures from JFK to LAX, UA515 departing at 08:45 and UA517 departing at 18:50. The final 767-300 departure is UA515 on October 5. UA517 that evening and scheduled flights thereafter are listed on United’s online schedules as operated by 757-200s.

The final United 767-300 out of LAX is UA516, the 14:30 departure on Monday, October 4. Thereafter, United’s two daily ex-LAX flights, the UA514 07:30 departure and the afternoon UA516 service, are operated by 757-200s.

United Airlines also has two daily return JFK- SFO flights. Out of JFK, UA521 pushes back at 08:00, and UA523 departs at 17:10. The Boeing 757-200 will first fly UA523 on Tuesday, October 5, and operate both San Francisco-bound flights thereafter.

Eastbound out of SFO, the 757-200 takes over on the morning of October 5. The aircraft type will debut on UA520, the 09:00 departure, that morning. Thereafter, the 757-200 will operate both UA520 and the afternoon UA522 flight to JFK.

United isn’t saying much about the aircraft switch. But despite their unglamorous status, United’s fleet of 757-200 have their fans. While plenty might decry United pulling their 767s from JFK, plenty more won’t be fussed. Regardless of aircraft type, the longer-term issue is whether United can make its cross-country flights out of JFK work