United considering sub-fleets for different premium cabins

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United-Continental holdings is considering having sub-fleets to maximize revenue, chief executive Jeff Smisek says in Sydney.

The consideration is emerging as the combined United Airlines contemplates how to integrate aircraft from Continental Airlines.

"We can have sub-fleets, but sub-fleets add cost," Smisek says.

He says a condition if United proceeded with sub-fleets is it would have to lower costs elsewhere "to make sure you're earning additional revenue."

"We've got to determinewhether it makes sense in some markets to have four classes of service," Smisek says.

At the same time, Smisek says, "First class is a very attractive product on long-haul missions. So you don't do away with something like that."

Internationally Continental operates a two-class product: economy and "BusinessFirst". United operates a four-class product: economy, premium economy, business class, and first class.

Smisek says no decision has been made on sub-fleets, which premium products the combined United will have, or if the carrier will adopt United's economy plus seating throughout the combined fleet.

He also says there is no time frame on the project because of how long-term and important it is.

"Whatever we think will make the most money, that's what we'll do," Smisek says.

United has a sub-fleet of Boeing 757 aircraft with business and first class seats it uses on its "p.s." (premium service) flights from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Its other 757 aircraft only have first class.

The carrier's 767 and 777 fleet each have two versions, one with business and first class and the other with only first class. Additionally, its international 777 fleet used to have two versions, one with more premium seats, but the carrier is now standardizing them.

Continental has a sub-fleet of 737 and 767-400ER aircraft for Pacific and Micronesia routes.

"It's fairly easy to think 'airplanes', but when you get into the interior there are a lot of things we have to determine," Smisek says.