FlyerTalk member Bear96 posted about some upcoming equipment changes to the new United in Asia. The changes so far are as follows:
· HKG-SGN moves from UA 747 to CO 737 (effective October 30, 2011)
· HKG-SIN moves from UA 747 to CO 737 (effective October 30, 2011)
· GUM-NRT moves from CO 767 and CO 737 to UA 777 (effective October 30, 2011)
· HNL-GUM moves from CO 767 to UA 777 (effective October 28, 2011)Additionally, we also plan to begin new, four-times-a-week CO 737 service this fall between Guam (GUM) and Okinawa (OKA), Japan, as well as daily CO 737 service between Narita (NRT) and Hong Kong (HKG).
Without exaggeration, when I saw the news I immediately checked the date the post was made, since I figured it was an April Fools joke.
Look, while I don’t have the slightest clue about the airline’s cost structure, I’m a numbers guy. In other words, I’m not going to say “United needs to keep flying 747s to Singapore because they look prettier.” So I’ll try to stick mostly to the facts.
United’s 747s have 374 seats, while Continental’s 737s have 134 seats. In other words, capacity is being cut by nearly two thirds. That’s huge.
The loads have always been light on Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City, though back in the day I remember a friend at United mentioning that they were okay with that. As it was explained to me, the cost of parking a 747 overnight in Hong Kong is astronomically expensive, while flying it to Ho Chi Minh City and parking it there overnight, even without great yields, would make financial sense. After all, aircraft utilization would just be awful, sitting in Hong Kong for 18 hours. Not only is that a lot of time for an airplane to not be making money, but Hong Kong is the last place you want to park for that long. So that’s one reason I’m surprised by this news.
Of course then there’s the customer’s perspective to consider. There’s no doubt United needs to do what’s best for their bottom line, but they shouldn’t take a short sighted approach to that. I’ve flown to Asia dozens of times, and typically end up taking a flight to either Tokyo or Hong Kong, and then connecting onwards from there. While I don’t usually sleep very much on the first flight, I always sleep on the second flight, so a flat bed is pretty valuable there. Of course I’m not all that important to the airline as an upgrader and award passenger, though I can assure you that most paid premium cabin passengers feel the same.
There are a lot of Global Services members that have been loyal to United largely because upgrades are easy to come by, because in other aspects United can’t compete. I know a lot of Global Services passengers that fly paid business class to Asia, and then upgrade to first class. They could fly Singapore Airlines, but stick to United because United first class is roughly comparable to Singapore’s new business class, and it’s Mileage Plus that’s the deciding factor. Do you really think someone flying on a $10,000 ticket is going to choose to fly United to Singapore now, only to be in a first class suite for 15 hours and then a domestic first class seat for the last four hours? Yes, one could fly through Tokyo instead, which still has a 777 to Singapore, though most 777s still feature the old configuration, which I would never book if I were on a paid premium cabin ticket.
Basically, I’d love to have been a fly on the wall at WHQ when this decision was made. I’m sure the numbers checked out. I’m sure the yield per passenger for Hong Kong to Singapore is going up substantially. But I’ve gotta wonder if the minimal cost savings (as I imagine them to be) are really worth it.
At the very least it seems to me to make sense to either change the departure time of the San Francisco to Hong Kong flight or the departure time of the Hong Kong to San Francisco flight so that the plane doesn’t sit on the ground in Hong Kong for 18 hours. Why not make the San Francisco to Hong Kong flight a late night departure (like the one Cathay Pacific has) or the Hong Kong to San Francisco flight a late evening departure (like the one Cathay Pacific has as well)? That way the plane wouldn’t sit on the ground for more than a few hours in Hong Kong.
On the plus side, the Tokyo to Hong Kong route is back, even if it’s only on a 737.
And yeah, I fully admit I’m being an armchair CEO. Take what I say with a grain of salt…