CHICAGO—United Airlines presented to its investors yesterday plans for long-term earnings growth through a number of strategic initiatives across the airline. These initiatives include improving network connectivity and revenue management, broadening product segmentation and introducing additional customer enhancements. Along with maintaining disciplined cost control, this strategy is expected to generate $4.8 billion in earnings improvement by 2020.
“As we approach the new year, our operations are running well, our employees are more energized than ever, and we are ready to unlock United’s full potential,” said Oscar Munoz, chief executive officer. “Today, we are talking about what’s next for United. We now have the strategy and organization in place to be the best airline in the world—for employees, customers and investors.”
To further meet customers’ needs and provide more options to price-sensitive travelers, the company announced the introduction of Basic Economy fares. This new offering provides customers the option of paying the lowest fares to their destinations, while still receiving the same standard economy experience, including food, beverage, Wi-Fi and personal device entertainment, with a few key differences. Customers who choose Basic Economy will be assigned seats on the day of departure, be assigned to boarding group five and be permitted only one personal carry-on item that must fit under the seat. The new offering provides the added benefit for customers and employees of simplifying the boarding process, as fewer customers will bring overhead bags on board. Complete details on Basic Economy can be found at united.com/basiceconomy.
“Customers have told us that they want more choice and Basic Economy delivers just that,” said Julia Haywood, executive vice president and chief commercial officer.
In addition to Basic Economy, United will continue to offer economy, Economy Plus and domestic first class, and it remains on track to introduce its reimagined international premium travel experience, United Polaris, on Dec. 1. The company is evaluating a new premium economy experience for domestic and international markets.
The company also announced its plans to fully optimize its network potential by continuing to leverage its leading international position while strengthening its domestic network, including improving the bank structures at key hubs in Chicago, Houston, and Newark/New York, and further improving both schedules and product in top business markets.
In addition, United is improving its revenue management system to more accurately forecast demand to better maximize profitability on each flight. The company expects these system improvements to drive $900 million of incremental revenue by 2019.
Aircraft order book
The company announced a modification to its narrowbody order book. The company is converting its original order for 65 737-700 aircraft into four 737-800 aircraft to be delivered in 2017 while the remaining 61 will be converted into orders for 737 MAX aircraft, with delivery dates to be determined. These changes will allow United to take advantage of the superior fuel efficiency of the MAX aircraft while also reducing capital expenditures by approximately $1.6 billion through 2018.
In addition, the company has agreed to purchase 24 Embraer 175 aircraft from Embraer, instead of leasing these aircraft through a capacity purchase agreement as was originally planned. These aircraft will be leased to third party carriers operating as United Express.
The company will continue its rigorous cost management program and expects 2017 unit costs to grow 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent excluding fuel. The company expects 2018-2020 unit costs excluding fuel to grow less than 1 percent per year due in part to its plan to remove $700 million of costs by 2020, as compared to 2015 levels.
Building on success
United has made significant progress in operational reliability, with an improvement of nearly 10 percentage points year-to-date in on-time departures. The company plans to further improve performance.
The company also is accelerating its mobile strategy, including next steps for its award-winning mobile app, which has more than 14 million downloads.
United currently has ratified agreements for all of its employee groups, with the exception of its technicians, who are represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The technicians are expected to vote on their contract before the end of the year.
United Airlines and United Express operate more than 4,500 flights a day to 339 airports across five continents. (United)