It will be a dramatic upgrade for United's Australian routes to Los Angeles and San Francisco, which currently plod along on Boeing 747-400s that even United CEO Jeff Smisek agrees is sub-par.
“The back of the product on the 747 that United flies to Australia is not an acceptable level of product” Smisek admitted to Australian Business Traveller in December 2010, citing the fact that inflight entertainment in economy is limited to a handful of TVs that drop down from the ceiling.
United and Airbus overnight confirmed that the airline will add 35 A350-1000s to its fleet, which United said in a statement "will be operated by United on higher density routes, including non-stop flights between the United States and the Asia/Pacific region."
The A350-1000 is the largest member of the Airbus A350 family, designed to seat around 350 passengers in a three-class layout.
But a five-year wait for that boarding call...
However, the A350-1000 is some five years away from flying in United's colours. While the A350-900 is expected to make its commercial debut in the second half of 2014, the 1000 won't follow until 2017, with United's order to be filled in 2018.
That still means a lot of miles in United's 747-400s, although a forthcoming upgrade to streaming wifi and inflight internet will help pass the time.
Speaking on the sidelines of this week's entry of EVA Airways into the Star Alliance group, Smisek told Australian Business Traveller that "later this year we will introduce streaming video" onto the Australia-bound Boeing 747-400s.
"We're putting power throughout the airplane plus satellite-based wifi so travellers can stay in touch wherever they are."
However, economy passengers will need to bring their own tablets, smartphones and laptops to use the the streaming video service, which will make the on-demand content of business class available to all passengers over wifi – United won't be fitting personal video screens to any of the seats.
Smisek doesn't see this as a problem, however. "Everybody has their own devices these days" he said, "and if they don't have on on the first flight they'll remember to bring one the next time!"
Australian Business Traveller attended the EVA Air / Star Alliance media event in Taipei as a guest of Star Alliance.
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