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United shifting some 747s away from SFO

United 747-400s departing Sydney's Kingsford-Smith airport (Aero Icarus)

United 747-400s departing Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith airport (Aero Icarus)

United could be watering down its strategy of making SFO its Boeing 747 hub, based on summer 2014 schedules released earlier this month.

For example, starting April 1, 2014, United will switch out its aging 747-400s on the SFO to Sydney and Melbourne flight and deploy newly refurbished, three-cabin 777-200ER’s on the route. It’s also taking the 747 off the SFO-London Heathrow route and will use only 777s. And it’s replacing the 747 on the SFO-Osaka route with SFO’s first scheduled United 787 Dreamliner.

Economy class on United's refurbished 777 configured 3-3-3 (Chris McGinnis)

New economy class Recaro seats on United’s refurbished 777 configured 3-3-3 (Chris McGinnis)

AUSTRALIA: The switcheroo on the Australia flights is good news for economy class passengers who suffer through the 14-hour odyssey to Oz at the back of the plane on United’ old 747’s from both SFO and LAX. The newly refurbished 777’s are more comfortable at the back with a 3-3-3 configuration (vs the 747′s 3-4-3), and individual seatback video screens. United says that the 777s will offer its new satellite-based wi-fi and in-seat power outlets, too.  (See this BAT post for a slideshow of the refurb and updated 777 interiors.)

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For those flying in business and first class, the switchover will not be as dramatic- the flatbed seating on the 777 is similar to the 747.  But it will be sad lose those nice biz class seats upstairs in the bubble of the 747. That’s one nice ride up there, especially for long overnight flights.

Which aircraft would you prefer for the long flight down under… the 777 or the 747? Why? Please leave your comments below…

Upstairs in biz class on United's 747 (Transworld Productions)

Upstairs in biz class on United’s 747 (Transworld Productions)

The move represents a significant reduction in capacity on the route—those big ole 747s hold 374 passengers, while the 777s only carry 269, with eight in first class, 40 in business, 117 in Economy Plus and 104 in economy.

With Qantas gone, and United reducing capacity, brace for some painful price hikes for nonstops from SFO to Sydney and Melbourne. Currently, roundtrip economy fares on SFO-SYD are in the $1,500 range, business class is running close to $9,000 and first is around $17,000. Fares typically run cheaper if you are willing to stop in LAX on the way down.

Where are those 747’s going to go? Well, some are going back to Chicago, where United will run the big birds nonstop from O’Hare to Frankfurt, Shanghai, Tokyo-Narita starting next spring. United will also deploy two 747s per day on the SFO-Tokyo (Narita) run. (H/T to Routes Online)

What does this mean for United’s recently announced strategy to make SFO its 747 hub? That seems a little murky at the moment. When The BAT asked, a spokesperson would only say: “Most of our 747 flights will continue to operate to and from SFO,” but would not comment on whether these moves represent a shift away from the 747 hub strategy.

Which aircraft would you prefer for the long flight down under… the 777 or the 747? Why? Please leave your comments below…

-Chris McGinnis

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