United CEO Messages ‘Travel Is Back’ With 270-Plane Boeing/Airbus Order


Delivering the signal that airline travel is storming back (at least domestic leisure travel), United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby sent an email message to customers announcing “the largest aircraft purchase that our industry has seen in a decade.” United placed orders (terms not disclosed) for 270 single-aisle jets—200 Boeing 737 Max-series and 70 Airbus A321neos. He also said that every new aircraft would have United’s “signature interior” with improved seats, upgraded entertainment systems with power outlets and seatback screens for every passenger, and larger overhead storage bins. Kirby added that United would retrofit existing aircraft with the interiors, updating two-thirds of the fleet by 2023 and 100 percent by 2025.

“We’ll be adding an average of one brand-new plane to our mainline fleet every three days,” he said. “As the world continues to open, we’re continuing to lead with a committed focus on improving your experience every time you fly with us.”

Kirby also revealed that United would be replacing regional jets on many routes with the larger single-aisle aircraft. “As we add these larger aircraft and fly fewer regional planes, we’ll have more premium cabin and economy plus seats than ever before,” he said. “And our new aircraft will also be more fuel-efficient, helping us get even closer to our goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions 100 percent by 2050.”

Preemptively fending off potential criticism for heavy spending on so many new aircraft so soon after receiving government financial assistance during the pandemic, United cited the upside this purchase would have for the economy. The move will result in 25,000 new union jobs at the airline, it said, and would also help stimulate secondary job creation at manufacturers, airports and leisure travel destinations throughout the U.S.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. In 2002 this airline declares bankruptcy eliminating its responsibility to its retirees. While I was working under a contract that reduced my income by 25% and received the rest in UAL stock, it looked like the deal might work out before my retirement. It didn’t and my shares became wall paper while the defined benefits were reduced by 75%. I now get my retirement from a government organization called PBGC.

    Next chapter… the airline and ALPA on knees to Congress for financial aid throughout all of 2020 in the billions. The taxpayer gets to hold the bag and now miraculously they can buy Boeings and Boom. What can possibly go wrong?

    While carrying my flight bags to the next flight, under my breath would mumble, they need to send our management to Dallas for a weeks worth of training with Herb Kelleher.

    • Don’t forget the shady deals made where they got bought out by Continental, an airline winning awards for good service, and then mysteriously absorb it so that it basically becomes their Houston hub and disappears along with most all the jobs they promised would stay in Houston.
      We made the mistake of trying the new United, and after several trips, stopped flying commercial (it wouldn’t surprise me if our luggage was still flying with them though).

    • Don’t worry – when it come to “Wups, this didn’t work out,” they will go to Uncle Sam, cry crocodile tears, and get bailed out – again. Just like GM, who now manufactures and markets some of their line in China. The bailouts seem to fatten the pockets of the already-proven incompetent management and do little for the little guy – or the taxpayers left holding the bag.

    • I know a person who lived through the same thing you are describing at United. This individual had to work an additional 10 years beyond projected retirement to build up retirement funds. Would actually be good if United learned how to treat their employees.

  2. I wonder if he is factoring in passenger resistance ot the MAX. I wouldn’r fluy on one, and many of my friends wouldn’t, given the choice!

  3. I wonder if he is factoring in passenger resistance to the MAX. I wouldn’r fly on one, and many of my friends wouldn’t, given the choice!

    • Fake news. Most pax don’t have a clue what they are flying on and all of my airline pilot buddies have no problem flying on a MAX.

      • I only fly little spam cans, but I worked on the engine program for the MAX, and have read all available literature on the single-point-of-failure decision. I’d fly on one tomorrow.

      • Gary, I think you are correct. Very few pax know anything, and even those that do are going to get over it. You have little flexibility to choose, and aren’t you still safer than in a car?

  4. People don’t like traveling in old cars… or old planes.
    They will be set up to lead the industry with their orders, and like buying any plane, car, or house in production, you can sell your positions when inflation hits at a huge profit.

    • What? It’s not every young man’s dream to slip the surly bonds in a 50 year old, dented Spam can with fiddly door handles and a Garmin?

      • You had a Garmin??? Wow… My schools fleet of bent 150’s with 13,000 hours flight time and on condition engines never had anything as nice as a Garmin. We did have 2 planes with a really cool IImorrow GPSs that didn’t work, it just looked good in the panel 😀

        • I’m guessing ADS-B forced some upgrades.

          When I started decades ago, a 30 year old 172 wasn’t so bad because it wasn’t that less sophisticated than my first car.

          Kids now must see even a factory new model as an antique.

          • True about the ADSB, but here in Canada we don’t have to do that yet, so most panels are still lacking upgrades. If it was not for the glass panel in the new C-172, there would be very few differences in the last 50 years true, but at least the new Cirrus look modern all over. 🙂

  5. United is really splurging lately! An undisclosed financial agreement with Boom Supersonic, an investment in eVTOL maker Archer recently, and now this 270-plane purchase order! They will either turn out to be purely insane or absolute geniuses thinking long-term. Either way, we still need pilots to man these vehicles… and where will they come from with this anticipated shortage coming?!

    • Once upon a time there were four crewmembers on a transport aircraft. Then they got rid of the navigator, which left a flight engineer, co-pilot and captain. With aircraft modernization they no longer required a flight engineer. I suspect this progression in technology will displace a co-pilot also. No more pilot shortage!

      Recently trips to the ISS were completed successfully with two or more humans onboard while both platforms moved at over 17000 mph and computer controlled. In fact an autonomously controlled helicopter is whizzing around Mars right now, certainly a major aeronautical achievement.

  6. United = Lucie Van Pelt holding the football
    The rest of us = Charlie Brown thinking they will not get fooled again

  7. Obviously, a lot of folks haven’t yet noticed that the airline biz was, is and always will be a very volatile industry. Crave security? Get a government job.