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Fleet Updgrade Report: Hard and Soft Product

Fleet Updgrade Report: Hard and Soft Product

 
Old Jun 23, 07, 5:12 pm
  #1  
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Fleet Updgrade Report: Hard and Soft Product

I had a great discussion today during my flight from HKG to SFO with a UA employee who was very knowledgeable about the upcoming refit of the fleet. He was a passenger in first, and I think was a corporate guy as opposed to a FA.

He said that rather than do the refit class by class (for example, doing all business in the fleet first then later all F class, etc) they are doing it one plane at a time. Reason is obvious: easier to schedule the fleet. It will take 26 days per refit for long haul aircraft, which they hope to work down to 21 days when they get really good at it over time. Not sure if that is business days or just days, but about a month per aircraft. He said it would take until 2012 to complete the refit. They are starting a beta program in November. They will do 3 aircraft – a 767, then a 777, then a 747 - and refit them over a 3 month period. They will then fly those long haul aircraft for 3-6 months to test out everything. If all goes well, they start the refit in earnest in mid to late 2008. They will do all 767 first.

In the refit, EVERYTHING gets redone. Economy, business, first. Enough has already been said about the types of seats, so no news there really. However, he did say a few things I had not read before. Economy will NOT have individual screens in 747s. Not sure about other aircraft. So no individual IFE in 747 economy. Business class will be shrunk in terms of capacity. His comments in this area were a bit confusing, but he said “we are following the model of the PS flights”. He said on PS, there is rarely a non-revenue business class seat. All are purchased and no room for upgrades. He said the expectation is that upgrades from economy to business class will become rare in the future as the number of business class seats shrinks. It is not their intention to limit upgrades, but just a fact of life given fewer seats (assuming they are all purchases by revenue passengers). He got kind of nervous at this point. He said that UA sees this as a big issue with its MP members and is getting ready to take a lot of flack for it. But in order to be competitive in business class, he said there was really no option. He had a very pained expression during this part of the discussion. It was clear this is a hot topic for UA.

He also commented on the build of the new seats. The current F seat has 12 motors and 9 fabric pieces which makes maintenance difficult. Also, business and first are very different and share no parts. The new business and first will share 60% of the parts with each other, so great for maintenance. Also, the new F seat will have only 2 motors, so less to break.

He also commented on the soft product refit. He said that is starting now, but will really roll out in late 2008. He said they are totally revamping the way they interact with customers. He used the example of the purser getting much more involved with the F passengers. I noticed this on the flight for the first time. The purser approached me at the start of the flight, addressed me by name (which he even pronounced correctly, which 95% of people do not), spent a good 3-5 minutes talking to me. He looked at all my flight details, connections, etc and said he would keep me updated should anything change. He also made a point of saying his name (Jim) several times to that I would remember it. He said to approach him for ANY issues, comments, concerns, etc. I REALLY liked this approach. It made a very personal connection between the crew and passengers. He said this is just one of several dozen ‘documented, measurable and repeatable’ changes they are making to their soft product.

Most of the discussion was on the long haul fleet. I asked about new equipment orders, such as the Dreamliner. He said there are discussions, and that if UA needs new equipment, they will not go to the back of the line, which he said is 2013 right now from Boeing. He said if they do order, they will got them earlier than that. But he would not say when they might order any. He did say the 737 are at ‘end of useful life’ and will need replacing soon. He also mentioned that they had a great investor pitch up on their web site under the Investor Relations section that I should read. It supposedly has a set of charts showing the age of the fleet and the plan for updating them.

Finally, I asked if he has ever visited FT, and he immediately laughed and said “Yes, I stop by there pretty often; many of us do”. He kind of bit his lip at that point and did not say much more about FT. I was hoping to draw him out to see what UA corporate really though about FT, but no luck. .

I walked away from the discussion with much more empathy for UA and the issues they are going through to regain competitiveness. They sincerely seem to be trying and they know that right now they are clearly at a low point in terms of quality and customer experience.

edit: Forgot to mention that UA is also moving away from 15V power to regular 110V US standard plugs during the refits. No mention if this was just F and C, or if the whole plane would be getting power in the future.

Last edited by blueman2; Jun 25, 07 at 9:51 am
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Old Jun 23, 07, 5:17 pm
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^ Nice post! Thanks for sharing.
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Old Jun 23, 07, 5:21 pm
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Update

I wrote the above while about 1/2 way through the flight today. Having now completed the flight, I wanted to give some additional details on their service. All I can say is WOW! That was the VERY BEST flight I have ever had with UA. The purser, Jim, was incredible. The entire flight staff was professional, friendly, attentive, helpful, cheerful (without coming across as fake!) and highly competent. I really enjoyed the flight and had great respect for all of the flight crew. True professionals. If most of my UA flights were like the one I was just on (UA856 on June 23), I would fly no one but UA ever for long haul business flights.

Oh, and as a parting gift, Jim even gave me a wonderful book on United's history. Book is called "The Age of Flight". A beautiful hard bound, large coffee table type book.

I cannot say that I take back every negative thing I have ever said about UA, but if this is a glimpse of the future, I will be very loyal to UA.
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Old Jun 23, 07, 5:22 pm
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Wow, interesting post, not even sure where to start. Just a few thoughts:

1. I would be curious to know who this guy is. How did you get into a conversation, out of curiosity?

2. Yep, they all visit FT, just don't join us. They usually look at us as their enemies, instead of a group of people with decent ideas, which is pretty sad, since other programs obviously embrace FT.^

3. Economy refit? While I know they said there would be no PTV's on the 747, what other kind of refit could they possibly do? I knew they were going to do C and F at the same time, but this sounds interesting...

4. Make it like the PS model where there are few upgrades? Maybe I'm just totally lucky, but I find upgrades on PS easy.

5. Obviously to move into profitability upgrades are going to have to stop as frequently, which makes sense. Still, I doubt upgrades are going to stop clearing, since I doubt they will gain a lot of business with the new C with their service and overall attitude. Good luck, UA! Also, would this mean the end of SWU's, or will they just be much harder to use? I still see no issue for those of us that plane ahead and get flights with confirmable space, personally.

6. Sucks that it will take so long for the refit. That really is a bummer. I wonder whether UA is just going to fly them on certain routes, or how they are going to sell the cabins if this one has drastically less capacity.

7. Changing the way they interact with the customers? I'll believe it when I see it, unfortunately. UA as a whole needs a completely new attitude, and that starts from the top down. The management has to learn to try and get along with the unions (as difficult as it may be at times) and vice versa. With the current corporate culture, this seems almost impossible. I think it's time for new management, since I don't think the employees can get over GT's bonus.

8. While I appreciate that you think UA is trying, I still think not. They are overlooking such obvious things continually, which really show how much they care about premium customers. How about starting by giving full fareY/C/F passengers E+ on Ted flights?

Just my two cents...
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Old Jun 23, 07, 5:25 pm
  #5  
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Originally Posted by blueman2 View Post
I wrote the above while about 1/2 way through the flight today. Having now completed the flight, I wanted to give some additional details on their service. All I can say is WOW! That was the VERY BEST flight I have ever had with UA. The purser, Jim, was incredible. The entire flight staff was professional, friendly, attentive, helpful, cheerful (without coming across as fake!) and highly competent. I really enjoyed the flight and had great respect for all of the flight crew. True professionals. If most of my UA flights were like the one I was just on (UA856 on June 23), I would fly no one but UA ever for long haul business flights.

Oh, and as a parting gift, Jim even gave me a wonderful book on United's history. Book is called "The Age of Flight". A beautiful hard bound, large coffee table type book.

I cannot say that I take back every negative thing I have ever said about UA, but if this is a glimpse of the future, I will be very loyal to UA.
Interesting, now that I read this. While I don't want to discredit Jim and the crew, I wouldn't be surprised if that were all a show for whoever that passenger was in F. Was F completely full, and could you tell if they were non-revs? If totally full with passengers/upgrades, this guy must have been pretty high up to fly confirmed F. My guess it was a show for him, but again, I may be doing them unjustice, but I have seen it before. I once flew on a flight to FRA where there was a UA service supervisor in C, and service was surprisingly fantastic. They even announced her presence onboard.
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Old Jun 23, 07, 5:25 pm
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One other note. I overheard at the end of the flight that the person I was talking to (George, I believe his name was) was in UA's on flight (on board maybe?) group, and he is doing a lot of work on the new refit. He talked to just about everyone on the flight, asking them their opinions and getting feedback.

Oddly, he said he was based on London in the past, and now in LA. Said he goes to ORD a lot, though. Why would a corp guy doing flight product live in LA?

Lucky9867coins, yes, that may have had something to do with it. The flight was totally full, all classes. But you know, just the fact that the crew CAN be that good and professional and caring makes me feel better. Whatever the reason, it can be done!

Last edited by blueman2; Jun 23, 07 at 7:31 pm
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Old Jun 23, 07, 5:34 pm
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Sounds like a plan! Any clue how long the soft product will take to get in place. While a fleet interior refit takes forever, changing the hearts and minds of employees can take much longer. I think they could start on it right away. I know from the "biz-education" seminars going on they are getting the opinion from each employee, and from what has been said, the officers are getting an earfull. About their compensation, about the employees morale, about the customer service ratings, about the age of the fleet, about staffing and outsourcing...

I know they are listening, but to win the hearts and minds of the customers, they need to win back the hearts and minds of the faces of UA, the CSR's, the FA, and the pilots (other employees would be nice too!) The purser thing is nice, but is it the onboard experience that needs the most work, or is it the area every neutral poll shows, the airport experience that needs the most work? Any 411 on what type of enhancements are going there for the general population of flyer (polls of UA 1st gclass and GS are nice, but the street sees polls directed at a cross section of customers, not just "premium" customers.)

It is good to hear that "the man" has a plan!
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Old Jun 23, 07, 5:38 pm
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Originally Posted by lucky9876coins View Post

3. Economy refit? While I know they said there would be no PTV's on the 747, what other kind of refit could they possibly do? I knew they were going to do C and F at the same time, but this sounds interesting...
Possibly:

1) Ditch the overhead CRT monitors in favor of flat panel LCDs sourced off of BensBargains.net

2) Ditto the projectors with DLP ones from Woot.

3) Replace the tape system used for the entertainment system with VCDs (recall UA has heavy MX done in China).

4) Replace the psychedelic rainbow and grey Economy seats with slimmer ones and/or "all blue" stain-hiding Economy seat covers as on some of the A320s / 757s, etc.

5) Replacement of overhead bins with "Boeing Signature" interior - albeit this is unlikely.
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Old Jun 23, 07, 5:41 pm
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Originally Posted by fastair View Post
I know they are listening, but to win the hearts and minds of the customers, they need to win back the hearts and minds of the faces of UA, the CSR's, the FA, and the pilots (other employees would be nice too!)
^
Originally Posted by SFO_Runner View Post
3) Replace the tape system used for the entertainment system with VCDs (recall UA has heavy MX done in China).

4) Replace the psychedelic rainbow and grey Economy seats with slimmer ones and/or "all blue" stain-hiding Economy seat covers as on some of the A320s / 757s, etc.

5) Replacement of overhead bins with "Boeing Signature" interior - albeit this is unlikely.
Hmmm, I know I am the only one, but I love the rainbow seats. They are, erm... traditional.

Number five would be a great idea on the 747 and 767, although I don't know what the Boeing Signature OHB's are.
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Old Jun 23, 07, 5:44 pm
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Originally Posted by blueman2 View Post
His comments in this area were a bit confusing, but he said “we are following the model of the PS flights”. He said on PS, there is rarely a non-revenue business class seat. All are purchased and no room for upgrades.
I guess lucky and I fit in the "rarely" category often
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Old Jun 23, 07, 5:47 pm
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Interesting post. One thing that gets my attention is the timing of all this. You would think UA would push this along, as the decision has been made to commit. "Start in earnest in mid-late 2008", over a year from now? Another brilliant operational decision. 2012 completion? By then not only has the 787 been up and around for a while, but the A380 will even be old news. How will they try to sell what will basically be a recycled product (with coach on the 744 being even further behind the times) with all the new products, likely with better service, already grabbing the attention? Today, what UA is saying it will do in the way of an upgrade seems state of the art. By 2012? Obsolete.
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Old Jun 23, 07, 5:52 pm
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Originally Posted by SFO_Runner View Post
2) Ditto the projectors with DLP ones from Woot.
I'm guessing they are aircraft-grade and thus inordinately more expensive than anything found on Woot, but the large three-beam projectors have been replaced in some planes with much more compact units. They appear to be DLP, but I can't say for sure.

Unfortunately, they're still in the same enclosures.
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Old Jun 23, 07, 6:28 pm
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Originally Posted by SFO_Runner View Post
5) Replacement of overhead bins with "Boeing Signature" interior - albeit this is unlikely.
The only bins that need immediate replacement are the 767 bins. They need to at least be redone to more effectively utilize the available space.

The bins over the center rows are too shallow and not long enough to accommodate most of the rolling luggages.

The bins over the outer rows need to be re-done so that the rolling luggage can fit wheels first (like on the other aircraft). Perhaps some sort of bin-extensions as the 757's and 737's have.
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Old Jun 23, 07, 7:03 pm
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Blueman, that was an awesome post and very informative. I did not read all of the postings here but I do know that all of this is part of a new program United has started about 2 months ago. It's sort of a test right now on certain flights and HKG - SFO is one of them. I have not had any personal experience with this being a FA based in NY but I'm glad to hear it's working out. Keep us informed on any future flights.
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Old Jun 23, 07, 7:14 pm
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Originally Posted by lucky9876coins View Post
Wow, interesting post, not even sure where to start. Just a few thoughts:

1. I would be curious to know who this guy is. How did you get into a conversation, out of curiosity?
I overheard him talking to the purser about the new seats. So I just started up the conversation. He was a younger guy, about 35-40 (OK, that shows MY age...)

2. Yep, they all visit FT, just don't join us. They usually look at us as their enemies, instead of a group of people with decent ideas, which is pretty sad, since other programs obviously embrace FT.^

3. Economy refit? While I know they said there would be no PTV's on the 747, what other kind of refit could they possibly do? I knew they were going to do C and F at the same time, but this sounds interesting...
All he said about economy was new LCD screens. Actually he said plasma, but he must be wrong there... they are too heavy vs LCD. That does not mean they won't do more, it is just all he said. His focus seemed entirely on Bus and F class. He did say they were going to take the planes "down to the studs" however, which implies a complete redo even of the panel and luggage racks.

4. Make it like the PS model where there are few upgrades? Maybe I'm just totally lucky, but I find upgrades on PS easy.
Maybe I mis understood his reference, but he did seem to think that the fewer Biz seats would reduce chances of upgrades quite a bit. He seemed to know this would be a concern for us frequent fliers

5. Obviously to move into profitability upgrades are going to have to stop as frequently, which makes sense. Still, I doubt upgrades are going to stop clearing, since I doubt they will gain a lot of business with the new C with their service and overall attitude. Good luck, UA! Also, would this mean the end of SWU's, or will they just be much harder to use? I still see no issue for those of us that plane ahead and get flights with confirmable space, personally.
I did not get the feel they were trying to proactively reduce upgrades, but rather that they would just have fewer biz class seats, so upgrades might get harder. BTW, he did say the 777 would standardize on 12 in F class. Did not say about Biz class.

6. Sucks that it will take so long for the refit. That really is a bummer. I wonder whether UA is just going to fly them on certain routes, or how they are going to sell the cabins if this one has drastically less capacity.
That was my reaction at first, but as I thought about how few 'extra' aircraft they have, I am not sure how else they can do it. They will essentially be reducing their fleet of long haul equipment by 1 during the entire refit process.

7. Changing the way they interact with the customers? I'll believe it when I see it, unfortunately. UA as a whole needs a completely new attitude, and that starts from the top down. The management has to learn to try and get along with the unions (as difficult as it may be at times) and vice versa. With the current corporate culture, this seems almost impossible. I think it's time for new management, since I don't think the employees can get over GT's bonus.
Cannot argue with you on that!

8. While I appreciate that you think UA is trying, I still think not. They are overlooking such obvious things continually, which really show how much they care about premium customers. How about starting by giving full fareY/C/F passengers E+ on Ted flights?

Just my two cents...

Last edited by blueman2; Jun 23, 07 at 7:42 pm
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