United Swaps Out 747 for 777 on Australia Flights, Plus More Route Changes

United Airlines has made several adjustments to its international flying schedule beginning at the end of March 2014, including the re-introduction of 747 flights out of Chicago O’Hare and swapping out 747-400s for three-class 777-200s on Australia-bound flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco. The schedule changes are appearing online as of this morning.

Highlighting the need to match capacity with demand, as well as “improved reliability†of the 747-400 fleet (really?), United announced the changes to its employees earlier this week. As usual, a copy of the announcement made its way to the online forums (I’ve included it at the bottom of this post).

Impact to Australia Flights

As a long time United flier to Sydney, the aircraft change comes as bittersweet news. On one hand, flying to Australia on United always meant I’d be traveling on the Queen of the Skies as it has been a staple on the LAX- and SFO-SYD nonstops since their introduction. It’s still my favorite aircraft and it carries a certain #avgeek elegance.

On the other hand, if I’m unable to secure an upgrade (which is highly likely given the 777 has only 40 BusinessFirst seats, down 23% from the 747-400’s 52 seats), I’ll at least have a slightly more spacious coach seat (18-inch width vs. 17-inches) with better in-flight entertainment (AVOD) and AC power available.

For Premier Silver or general MileagePlus members, booking early will be key to secure advance seat assignments given the amount of real estate on United’s 777s devoted to Economy Plus.

a screen shot of a flight schedule

United Boeing 777-200 seat map

Infrequent or semi-frequent travelers who’ve always chosen United in the past to/from Australia might find a full seat map at booking since there are only 108 “standard†economy seats on the 777 versus 240 on the 747.

While this is the case for any route the 777 flies, I have a feeling flights to/from Oz fill up earlier than most, and United might get some flak for the appearance of “pushing upsells†to Economy Plus for the unknowing traveler. If you’re not able to secure a “free” seat assignment in advance, United will assign any available seat (including Economy Plus) at check-in or the gate.

United’s Schedule Change Announcement

Here’s the full announcement from United about all of the changes:

We will announce 2014 international flying changes Saturday.

Over the past several months, Network Planning worked with all of our operating divisions to develop United’s 2014 international flying plan. We will load the schedule into our system on Aug. 17. The new schedule reflects our ongoing work to put the right aircraft in the right markets to earn a sufficient return, which includes the addition of SFO-KIX (Osaka, Japan) Boeing 787 service.

First, we are moving some of our Boeing 747 flying back to ORD. Last year we decided to move all of this flying to SFO to improve the reliability of this fleet. Now that reliability has been restored, and we have a plan in place to better support the fleet, we can put the 747 on the routes that are better suited for the number of passengers the 747 carries. We will return the 747s to ORD and fly three routes: ORD-PVG (Shanghai), ORD-NRT and ORD-FRA (Frankfurt, Germany). We are matching those routes with 747s out of SFO to PVG, NRT and FRA; this route structure will continue to allow SFO maintenance to be the primary maintenance location and improve fleet profitability.

“We carefully selected these routes to generate the best performance from both a profitability and a reliability perspective,†said International Planning Managing Director Andrew Buchanan. “Our Tech Ops team did an outstanding job bringing this fleet back into an ongoing maintenance mode and are making the necessary investments to operate the aircraft reliably out of Chicago. We feel confident about moving some of them around the system carefully and selectively.â€

We will also use 777s instead of 747s in the LAX-SYD (Sydney) and SFO-SYD markets and on the SFO-LHR (London-Heathrow) route. We’ll also replace a 777 with a 747 on the NRT-HNL (Honolulu) and SFO-NRT routes.

In addition to the 777 and 747 swaps, we’re also replacing a 747 with 787 service from SFO-KIX beginning April 8. “While SFO-KIX is a successful route for us, the load factor on the 777 is relatively low, so using the smaller, more efficient 787 there will improve results while allowing us to redeploy the 777 to routes with higher demand,†Andrew said.

With all of these decisions, we intend to better align capacity and operational cost of the aircraft to the amount of profitable demand in those markets.

“It’s important to keep in mind that demand and profitable demand can look very different,†Andrew said. “Our airline is a business, and businesses need to make money. We believe these changes will help us achieve a greater level of profitability for our airline, which in turn benefits our co-workers and all of our stakeholders.

– Follow Darren Booth on Twitter, @FrequentlyFlyin, for more airline, hotel and travel industry news, reviews and opinions.


Flight Review: United Airlines BusinessFirst, Los Angeles to Sydney

Australia Trip Report: United, Virgin Australia, Hilton and Radisson Blu

Video of My Takeoff from Sydney


  1. Mixed feelings too. I like the upper deck of the 747 alot but ithe good old bird was prone to mechanicals – have been stuck in SYD when I should have been home for my 1 weekend in a month tour. Very unhappy. I did have good luck with upgrades from Y, though bought more pricy tickets. Given the chance of an upgrade now is quite low then I wil now book cheapest fare and save globals for elsewhere (likely save a grand on a fare). Not to bad as I hate (strong word, i know) the 777 business dormitory. I have turned down an upgrade on a 777 before when offered a middle bunk. It seems there is more space in Y on a 777 than 747. I consider 777 business class not to be business first as UA mischaracterize but rather economy plus.

    • @LevyFlight: United is definitely still having some reliability issues with the 744 based on some Flyertalk threads, that’s for sure. And yes, the $$ savings will be substantial in not wanting to buy a W-fare (or higher) on SYD flights anymore.
      @steve: Leave it to a Flyertalker to have those connections!

  2. I was already booked in Global First SYD-LAX next July for my honeymoon. For a couple on the 777, would you strongly recommend the middle section over a window and one of the middles, even if we do like to see out the window?

    • @D: I would absolutely recommend the middle pair of Global First seats on United’s 777 for a couple, especially since it’s your honeymoon! Besides the first 10 minutes and last 15 minutes of flight SYD-LAX, there’s really nothing to see. The 777 window-to-middle gap is too large to comfortably hold a pleasant conversation, in my opinion. Congrats on your wedding!

  3. Thanks for the info. Heard about the change from you. Still no word from UAL yet. Just looked up our 4/1/14 SYD-LAX and they reassigned us to 10A & 10B on the 777 (from 15A&B). Any comment on location? Does having the last row in biz facing back increase noise from rest of plane?

    • @kijo: Row 10 is probably the “worst” on this version of a 777 as it faces economy class. I’d go for 6A/B, 6J/K or 9A/B, 9J/K if they’re open as my first choices, and then any other pair besides row 10.

  4. How much room is there in row 20 on the 777-200 on coach? The map shows two seats with extra room before the “wall”, but I’ve heard that the wall is really much closer that is shown on the UA seat map. True?

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