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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 2, 2010

United Air overhauling international jet fleet


By Julie Johnsson
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO United Airlines is giving a long-overdue makeover to the Boeing 777 aircraft used on some of its longest overseas flights, adding perks like video-on-demand for passengers flying in the cheap seats.

It's part of a broader customer-service push at United, which for much of the past decade neglected investing in its infrastructure as it restructured under Chapter 11 and dealt with other financial crises.

The Chicago-based carrier, which derives much of its profit from international flights, is aiming to improve passengers' on-board experience and bring its service closer to that of overseas carriers like Emirates and Singapore Airlines, which are pushing the standard for luxury skyward.

United mechanics, overhauling the first of 46 Boeing 777s in San Francisco, are shrinking the plane's premium cabins, which are being outfitted with lie-flat beds in business and suites in first class. The six United Boeing 777s that are used only for domestic flying are not being upgraded, said United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson.

At the same time, United is adding as many as 21 seats to its Economy Plus cabin and two extra seats in coach. The shift reflects travel policies adopted by many companies that require employees to fly in coach rather than in business-class seats.

United is also phasing out the old configuration of seats in its economy cabins of two seats per row on both sides of the plane and five in the middle. Instead, each row will be divided into three sections that each seat three passengers.

The new format will let United outfit the cabin with larger seat-back screens and a new audio-visual on-demand system that lets passengers stop and start movies and television shows, Johnson said.