Starting in April of 2013, United plans to turn its San Francisco International Airport base into a 747 hub of sorts.
In an internal memo obtained by TravelSkills, United tells employees it’s doing this to concentrate all the 747 parts, tools and spares at one hub, resulting in a more reliable 747 fleet. Maintenance for United’s internationally configured 767s and 777s will be consolidated at Chicago, O’Hare.
This means in addition to current 747 flights from SFO to places like Sydney, Hong Kong or Tokyo, it will soon be all-747s-all-the-time between SFO and Frankfurt, Heathrow, Osaka and Taipei (starting in Oct). United’s new flights to Paris, which begin April 11, will use a B767.
It also means using 747’s on its Honolulu-Tokyo NRT flight. The 747s on the LAX-Sydney route will remain in place.
United has 26 747s in its fleet, with an average age of 17 years.
While some fliers may consider the 747 the “Queen of the Skies,” many airlines have begun to dump the plane recently in favor of the more fuel efficient Boeing 777 and 787. For example, Singapore Airlines, which at one time operated more 747’s (37) than any other airline, retired the big bird last Spring.
Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air and Malaysian have already or will soon phase the 747 out of their fleets. British Airways is now the largest 747 operator, with 55 in its fleet. Among US carriers, only United and Delta operate the 747. Delta recently did a nice job re-doing interiors (business and coach) on its fleet of 16 747’s.
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At an average age of 17 years, United’s 747 fleet is getting a little long in the tooth. For business and first class passengers, seats have been upgraded to true lie-flat seats — and it does not get much better than a nice lie-flat seat upstairs on a 747 (see photo above).
But the situation is a bit different at the back of the plane– Unlike its revamped 777s and 767s, there is no seatback entertainment in economy or premium economy classes on United’s 747s. Even United CEO Jeff Smisek has said that economy class on United’s 747s is “unacceptable.”
Brett Snyder, who runs the Cranky Concierge service told TravelSkills: “The good news is that having the 747 operation focused on SFO where maintenance is will help improve reliability. The 747 fleet isn’t exactly the best operational performer for United, and I assume that’s why they’re making this change. The bad news is that coach still sucks. They still have overhead video screens back there and the 3-4-3 configuration isn’t going to be a favorite for many. They say they are putting in some wireless streaming video that people can use on their own devices, but good luck finding a device with a battery that will last all the way to Hong Kong.”
What do YOU think about United’s fleet of 747s? Is a 747 base at SFO a good thing…or not? What’s your preferred bird for transoceanic flights? Why? Please leave your comments below.