Executives at United Airlines have been making a lot of noise in recent months about becoming tougher competitors in domestic markets, especially in the business travel realm, and President Scott Kirby this week spelled out some specific tactics for achieving that goal.
Regrettably, that does not mean lower fares (as we learned in this TravelSkills post) — instead, United says it is going to work on making flying United easier.
In a conference call about the airline’s quarterly earnings, Kirby mentioned three strategies to bring more business travelers back to the carrier – all of them aimed at “restoring the domestic network to its natural share in our hubs,” as he put it. (In other words, winning back market share that United has lost to competitors.)
Those strategies are:
1- Making it easier for us to find seats when we need them. Business travelers are notorious for not booking too far in advance, and Kirby said United has been selling off its inventory too early. “If your goal is to keep bookings high, the easiest way to do that is to lower the prices, and that’s exactly what United was doing,” he said, relying heavily on sales of advance-purchase discount fares.
The problem with that was “we sold out too soon…we forced many of our best customers to fly on our competitors because we were sold out.” But now the airline is “willing to take much more risk that high-yield business customers are going to choose United if we just keep seats available for them.” That has worked in the first quarter, he said, with higher-revenue “close-in bookings” showing a 12 percent increase year-over-year. See what we mean about not lowering fares?
2- Offering flights between major cities on larger, more comfortable aircraft. Kirby took a jab at United’s previous management for putting smaller jets on the wrong routes, and said that is changing. “United never should have been flying regional jets in markets like Chicago to Washington National or Newark to Atlanta,” he said. The company is changing that pattern by using larger aircraft, “mostly in places where we historically did fly larger planes,” he noted. Smaller jets will be used mainly on “smaller markets that drive better connectivity to our hubs, places like Champaign, Illinois and Rochester, Minnesota.” Sounds like a good idea, but we’ve heard from plenty of TravelSkills readers who’ve grown to love United’s new 2-class Embraer aircraft with comfortable 2×2 seating in the back and big square windows…
3- Shorter layovers at its hubs. Later this year, Kirby said, United will begin “re-banking” flight schedules at its hub airports. That refers to the common industry practice of scheduling “banks” or clusters of inbound and outbound flights in specific time windows to maximize the number of quick connections without long layovers. The airline will reportedly begin the process at Chicago O’Hare, Houston Bush Intercontinental and Washington Dulles. Shorter layovers sound great, but when summer thunderstorms hit Chicago or Houston, better watch out… those tighter turnarounds tend to fall apart.
What else can United do to win you back…or keep you from fleeing to competitors? Would you pay more for United if its operations improve? Please leave your comments below.