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United expects first premium-heavy 767 in February

United Airlines expects to receive its first Boeing 767-300ER with an expanded business class cabin in February, FlightGlobal understands.

The first aircraft in the configuration, which is dubbed the "76L" by the Chicago-based carrier, is due for completion in mid-February after an initial target date of 18 January, FlightGlobal understands. Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company (HAECO) is handling the reconfiguration work.

The 767-300ER will have 167 seats, split between 46 Polaris business-class seats, 22 premium-economy seats and 99 economy seats, a staffing guide sent to flight attendants this month shows. The number of Polaris seats has increased slightly since the configuration was first reported in April 2018.

Currently, United configures its 767-300ERs with 214 seats, including only 30 in business class.

The new premium-heavy 767s are likely to be used on routes with high levels of premium demand, like between Newark and London Heathrow.

"Business-to-business markets are going to be the ones that we are going to fly those airplanes to," United chief executive Oscar Munoz told Skift of the new configuration earlier in January. He named the New York-London market as a possible route.

United declines to comment on the new premium-heavy 767 configuration, including when the first aircraft will enter service.

Airlines typically take a few months for checks and crew familiarisation when they introduce a new aircraft configuration.

United has cited high-levels of premium demand in a number of recent fleet decisions. It debuted its new Boeing 787-10s between Newark and Los Angeles citing demand for larger premium cabins earlier in January, and ordered four additional Boeing 777-300ERs in December touting their efficiency in markets with "demand for large premium cabins".

The expanded premium options are part of a larger cabin segmentation programme that United hopes will drive an additional $1 billion in revenue to its bottom line by 2020. Premium Plus, its new premium economy cabin, and basic economy fares are part of this initiative.

United may be alone among US carriers in expanding business class cabins. American Airlines began shrinking business class on its 787-8s by eight seats when it began adding its premium-economy cabin to aircraft last year, and Delta Air Lines is removing nine business-class seats from its 777-200s as part of an ongoing reconfiguration project.

In addition to the premium-heavy 767s, United is considering a new lie-flat domestic premium product on some of its Boeing 737 Max 10 aircraft that begin arriving in 2020.

United operates 35 767-300ERs, as well as three in storage that it acquired from Hawaiian Airlines in 2018, Flight Fleets Analyzer shows.

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