GAME ON: United Adds 3-Cabin Service to Premium New York-West Coast Routes

Los Angeles is a hyper-competitive market. There’s no more high revenue market than New York – Los Angeles, with New York – San Francisco following it.

That’s why the routes are so competitive, not just with so many airlines offering service but also with a better product than what’s offered domestically on other routes.

American Airlines has a dedicated fleet — the Airbus A321T — for the two routes. It’s a 3-cabin aircraft with economy (including Main Cabin Extra extra legroom seating), fully flat business class, and 1-1 seating first class. It’s the most luxurious, high-end narrow body aircraft and the best plane flying domestically in the U.S. (and I include the Qantas Boeing 747 that flies Los Angeles – New York JFK in that assessment).

First class on the A321T is the same seat as American’s best international business class product, on the Boeing 777-300ER.

Here’s business class:

I previewed the aircraft two years ago and flew the inaugural Los Angeles – New York JFK flight.

United’s premium cabin is almost identical to American’s business class on the route. But American has been the only airline offering 3-cabin service on these two New York – West Coast routes.

Until now.

According to, United is introducing 3-cabin Boeing 777 service between Newark and both Los Angeles and San Francisco and between Washington Dulles and those two cities.

UNITED in this weekend’s schedule update has opened reservation for planned Boeing 777 service on Newark – Los Angeles and Newark – San Francisco route, each served once a day. Currently, the 777 service is scheduled to operate from 06APR16 to 04MAY16. Schedules on/after 05MAY16 will be updated in the coming weeks.

…The Boeing 777-200ER is configured in 3-class, F8J40Y221 (Including 113 seats in Economy Plus). Additionally the 777 will also operate Washington Dulles – Los Angeles UA719/360 and Washington Dulles – San Francisco UA1476/644 service from 06APR16 to 04MAY16.

This adds a lot of capacity to the market. It’s not like my younger days of travel, of course, when I could choose between an afternoon 777 or a 747 for Washington Dulles – West Coast flying. I considered those upgrades gimmes even when I was just a basic Premier member. And of course it’s a better product, too.

United is only offering this one flight per day in each direction, rather than throughout the schedule, so American remains the only one with 3-cabin service on all of its flights. But it’s no longer the only airline with true 3-cabin service on the route. Frequency matters, and I doubt United will win premium corporate business with a single flight.

Here’s the New York schedules:

    Newark – Los Angeles
    UA1600 EWR1659 – 1950LAX 777 D
    UA247 LAX0700 – 1513EWR 777 D

    Newark – San Francisco
    UA1885 EWR1645 – 1949SFO 777 D
    UA577 SFO0730 – 1550EWR 777 D

These flights aren’t feeding United’s West Coast Asia route network, since other than Australia flying the arrive in San Francisco and Los Angeles too late (and even for those flights depart the West Coast too early). San Francisco is moving to more and more 2-cabin service across the Pacific in any case. And there’s not much 3-cabin transatlantic traffic via Newark that these could provide West Coast connections for. So it’s not obvious the strategy here.

Last summer United ran ‘p.s. service’ between Boston and Los Angeles. They had the spare aircraft to do it. And it didn’t stick. So this may well not continue.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Aside from utilization, my guess is they feel that they need the F cabin for onward connections to Europe as much as anything else.

  2. the IAD-SFO roundtrip 3 cabin 777 has been operating for a while now actually. its been once a day of course, but i’ve always tried to book this 777 transcon. nothing new there. the IAD-LAX in 777 is new i think, which is cool.

  3. It’s weird they put it on a day flight, eastbound, if you were going to have it on one flight then surely you’d want it on the redeye?

    I’m guessing this is down to aircraft utilisation and needing the plane elsewhere during the redeye hours.

    Question: where does UA do 777 maintenance? Is this about rotating planes through maintenance bases whilst making a bit of a splash on domestic wide bodies?

  4. What you don’t mention is the dormitory-style 8-abreast Business Class seating. Much worse than Business Class on the p.s. planes.

    Also, LOL at the thought of people flying into Newark paying for 3-class F. Anyone with that kind of dough is using JFK.

  5. I wouldn’t call 1x daily flight “game on”. They are not offering a dedicated differentiated product. Just like with any other domestic wide body service, it is not a dedicated segmented product, just simply a flight that happens to be on an aircraft with a different hard product.

  6. Mike, you must be 5 years behind.

    These days Newark is hands down the most convenient airport for Manhattanites, especially those in Lower Manhattan. Even in rush hour it has never taken me more than 45 minutes to go to EWR (30 min most of the time). JFK on the other hand is a shitshow with the double whammy of the LIE and VanWyck.

  7. @RJ are you Smisek? He forever tried to claim this. EWR is closer to parts of Manhattan and JFK is closer to parts as well. Midtown/UES are better served from LGA/JFK… lower Manhattan and the west side is generally closer to EWR.

  8. It’s not “game on” because EWR doesn’t really appeal to most incoming passengers – only to those who live in NJ or lower Manhattan. So UA will always have an inferior airport regardless of product in sky.

    That being said I don’t think business travelers really give two cents about the 3 v. 4 cabin product (counting E+ as a separate cabin which is what airlines are marketing now). The big money account will buy paid C/F and those who have corp policies that require economy will upgrade to E+. Adding lie flat F is meaningless except maybe on the redeyes.

  9. As a Manhattanite with some physical discapacitation, EWR sucks for me cf. LGA & JFK. Even though traffic to JFK can be horrid, the price of a taxi (and the availability thereof) is far better than for JFK (and this is especially true on the return from the airport back into the city). Besides, honestly, just getting through the Lincoln Tunnel alone can be 30 minutes.

  10. Genuinely, Mint is a better product than AA’s first class, even without one of the 1-1 configured seats. Perhaps this will be differentiated.

  11. UA has been operating one ‘international’ 757 with layflats in businessfirst SFO-IAD for a few months. Not an easy upgrade but worth paying a premium class fare for.

  12. “But American has been the only airline offering 3-cabin service on these two New York – West Coast routes.

    Until now.”

    That claim is not totally accurate. In 2004 United had launched their JFK-SFO and JFK-LAX “premium service” or p.s. on a 3-cabin B752: F, C and the entire Y configured as EconomyPlus. It was not until 2012 that the original p.s. out of JFK was changed a two-class configuration: J (28 seats) and split Y to include 42 EconomyPlus seats and 72 standard economy seats.

    In 2015, United decided to switch their p.s. service from JFK to EWR, which chagrined me a lot as one living in Mid/Upper East Side and find it more convenient to fly out JFK/LGA than out EWR — an airport that I never cared much for in the first place. The last p.s. out of JFK was on 24 October 2015.

    So, more accurately, with this move UA is simply reinstating on a much smaller scale and with a different plane, the 3-cabin p.s. service that they discontinued 3-4 years earlier…

  13. Every time the topic of UA/DL/AA service to the New York area comes up there are a couple locals who tout their choice of airport as a demonstration of their higher status and superior pedigree…if only they knew that LGA/EWR/JFK are the three worst airports in North America, only question is in which order.

  14. @Another Steve — I live in NYC and do not hang out at the airports. They are simply a means to an end: to allow to get to other places around the country or world. That the city has the “three worst airports in North America” is thus totally irrelevant or immaterial. The only question for me is which one offers greater convenience from where I live (LGA < 15 min away; JFK ~30 min; EWR at least 1hr)…

  15. Every time there’s an article about anything NYC there’s always another jealous Steve thinking that wherever they come from is even 1% of the city NY is.

  16. @DCS I didn’t say American was the only airline to ever offer 3-cabin service on the route. America West even used to offer 3-cabin service New York JFK – Phoenix!

  17. @Gary — Sure you did. I cut and pasted what you’d claimed:

    “But American has been the only airline offering 3-cabin service on these two New York – West Coast routes.

    Until now.”

    The “Until now” implied no antecedent, and “the two West Coast routes” are NYC – LAX or SFO, on which UA has provided p.s. since 2004, so I am not even sure what America West’s JFK-Phoenix has to do with it.

  18. 777s are here to stay on the transcons, but they’ll soon be operating with United’s forthcoming high density 777 layout (not the same as the current Hawaii subfleet) that will be 28J and 300+ in Y at a 3-4-3 layout.

    So I advise flyers to enjoy these premium 777s for now because the configuration, like the times, are a-changin’.

    Also, as an aside, EWR p.s. service is exceeding the company’s expectations. So while leaving JFK might have been frustrating to a lot of people, it’s certainly been a large net positive for United.

  19. It will be “Game On” when UA consistently offers F/J/Y service on this route. One F/J/Y service daily just creates more product confusion.

    If you fly AA, you know exactly what you’ll get.

    DL, though consistently 2-class, also varies the equipment.

  20. @DCS they have been, in recent times but not the beginning of time. Until now, when a new schedule has loaded that changes status quo service. :rolleyes:

  21. @Gary — Whatever. If you’d limit your abuses of superlatives or absolutes maybe your writing would not so…well, equivocal…

  22. LOL, Newark more convenient? That’s laughable. Ever looked at the weekend NJT schedules? There are literally 50-minute gaps every hour where you’re standing around at the EWR rail station waiting for your train. Nothing like that exists on LIRR, the E train or the A train.

    A flight would have to be multiple hundreds of dollars cheaper for me to even entertain the notion of flying out of Newark.

  23. anyone that thinks that ps launching in 2004 was the end-all, be-all has an incredibly short memory. UA ran 762s in a 3-class configuration nearly identical to AA’s for years on the JFK-LAX, JFK-SFO, BOS-LAX and BOS-SFO markets (and probably others). They simply decided to rebrand their premium transcon service as ps when they retired the 762 fleet. Anyone that flew the old 762 service will tell you ps was an immediate step down in service, and the angled-flat F cabin wasn’t necessarily better than a fully reclined recliner seat.

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