United Airlines Flies High with Growing Fleet

Thorsten Lettnin, MD, Continental Europe & India Worldwide Sales, United Airlines, and Harvinder Singh, Country Manager, India & Director, United Airlines Business Services Pvt. Ltd., spoke to BW Hotelier to don light on the airline’s new flight and India’s potential as an important market for them.

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UNITED AIRLINES also popularly known as United has just introduced the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft – their latest non-stop long-haul aircraft that boasts of the all-new United Polaris business class seat - on its route between Mumbai and New York/ Newark. The aircraft replaces the Boeing 777-200ER on the once-daily service. The flight which commenced on October 28, 2018, is once daily and is scheduled for the time 11:10 hours from Mumbai and arrival in New York Airport at 05:40 hours. On the return leg, the flight is scheduled for 20:10 hours from New York and arrival in Mumbai is expected at 20:40 hours.

Thorsten Lettnin, MD, Continental Europe & India Worldwide Sales, United Airlines, and Harvinder Singh, Country Manager, India & Director, United Airlines Business Services Pvt. Ltd., spoke to BW Hotelier to don light on the airline’s new flight and India’s potential as an important market for them. Excerpts:

What are the value additions made to the new flight Boeing 777-300ER?

Harvinder Singh: The upgraded aircraft Boeing 777-300ER on the Mumbai New York route is now equipped with 100 additional seats with respect to the increasing demand from the Indian market. The all-new United Polaris business class seats are suite-like pods that boast of direct access to the aisle; a 180-degree flat-bed measuring 6'6''; infinite seat recline options and one-touch lumbar support. The pods are also equipped with 2-USB ports, universal A/C power, mood lighting and an illuminated "Do Not Disturb" sign. Furthermore, the 1-2-1 configuration of the aircraft allows all the passengers to access their seat hassle-free. All our planes are enabled with Wifi connectivity to allow our passengers to get a seamless-connected experience on the long-haul flights.

Considering the Indian audience, of which, a significant number of passengers are vegetarian, we already have been serving the Hindu Vegetarian meal. We have also recently introduced the Jain Vegetarian meal option which has gained good popularity now.

Having presence of over a decade of flying to and fro India, how has the Indian market served for United? Are you planning to add new routes? Also, being the founding member of Star Alliance, how has an alliance with other airlines helped you grow business in India?

HS: Our relation with India dates back to 2005 where we started our first flight to Delhi followed by Mumbai in 2007. Hence India has been an important market for us. With over 14,000 flights, we have carried over 3 mn passengers until recently. The metros here are largely contributing to the maximum bookings of United. However, the tier-II cities and other emerging markets are also bringing in potential business for us. Several cities in the vicinity of the metros have been the catchment area for United over the past decade. We also have a lot of Corporates who fly from South of India, hence that is also a strong market for daily flights. Our affiliation with several regional and other international carriers through the alliances has helped us serve to a larger market in India. We are eyeing an overall growth of 8-10% between the India-US market. Also, we are offering competitive fares, which allow us to attract the potential Indian market.

What visitor profile including corporates, leisure travellers, family, etc., serves the most for United?

HS: We receive a lot of corporates, leisure travellers, family and friends travelling to and fro between India and the US round the year, hence there is a healthy mix of the diverse visitor profile.

What are your thoughts about introducing new products and upgrades? Are you considering expansion of your global fleet?

HS: United has always gone a step ahead to cater to our valuable customers, hence we take care of our guests right from the ground level, where we have introduced lounges at the airport in San Francisco and will introduce them in the other destinations too. We are always on the move and are exploring more value-added options to be introduced in the market soon.

Thorsten Lettnin: In terms of fleet size - we have the Boeing 777 for all long-haul flights, which come in two versions – Boeing 777-200ER and Boeing 777-300ER of which we are having a total of 92 airplanes as of now. We have increased by four airplanes in this category in the current year as compared to 2017. We also have the Dreamliner 787 – in three versions – 40 airplanes as of 2018 against 33 in 2017. The third category of aircraft that we operate is of Boeing 763 and Boeing 764 of which we have 54 planes in 2018, a total increase of three in number as of last year.

What growth are you expecting from the global market in the coming years? What is the 5-year plan for the airline?

TL: We are having a plan of growing 5 Percent each year over the next five years.

HS: Adding capacity is one part and utilisation of the same is another. So with the fleet of Boeing 777-300ER, out of the 18, we have already put in 17 as operational. And the objective now is, in every 10 days, we will put up at least one aircraft with the Polaris service till 2020 to ensure that this new product gets to the market pretty quickly, and we utilise the capacity really well. So putting in the capacity and utilising them judiciously complement each other is what we believe in.


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