One of the big four US carriers alongside American, Delta, and Southwest, United Airlines operates both widebodies and narrowbodies of all ages. The Star Alliance member’s newest aircraft come from Boeing in the form of the 737 MAX and 787 Dreamliner. But today, we’ll examine the active aircraft on the other side of the spectrum, those that have been with the airline the longest.
The Boeing 767-300 fleet
United’s fleet of Boeing 767-300ERs are the airline’s oldest aircraft. These widebody twinjets arrived at the airline in the early 90s and range between 32 and 29 years of age. There are about 20 aircraft in this older batch of 767-300s, with the oldest being the jet registered N641UA. All of these aircraft were delivered to United without winglets, but had these installed over 25 years later, mostly between 2016 and 2017. All of these aircraft are powered by pairs of Pratt & Whitney PW4000 series powerplants.
The jets are configured in one of two possible setups. There is a higher density layout which has 30 business class seats and another 184 in economy class. Others sport a more premium-heavy configuration of 46 business class seats, 22 premium economy, and 99 business. These premium-heavy 767s appear to be most-often tasked with flying out of American airports like Newark Liberty, Washington Dulles, Boston, and Chicago O’Hare and connecting to European destinations like London Heathrow, Zurich, and Geneva. Given the strong business reputation these European cities have, it’s no wonder why United would opt to have more business and premium seating on these routes.
As for the higher density configuration, we can look to our oldest 767 for example destinations. Indeed, N641UA appears to be based at Houston Intercontinental and has more recently been tasked with flights to the following cities:
- Rio de Janeiro (GIG)
- Santiago (SCL)
- Munich (MUC)
- Lima (LIM)
- New York (EWR)
- Naples (NAP)
- Venice (VCE)
United’s oldest narrowbodies: The Airbus A320-200
The oldest narrowbody aircraft at United Airlines have slightly more interesting stories. These are aircraft that were delivered to the airline directly from Airbus in the early-mid 90s. The oldest of the A320-200s is the airframe registered N401UA, which was delivered in November 1993.
So what makes some of these A320s “slightly more interesting”? Well, in late 2005, a few of these older narrowbodies left the mainline United fleet for the airline’s shotlived budget subsidiary – “Ted.” This re-assignment would see their two-class configurations replaced with single-class layouts of 156 seats. Of course, Ted wouldn’t last, ceasing operations in 2009. Thus, the jets would go back to flying with the United mainline fleet and continue to do so to this day.
These days, the A320s operate domestic services in and out of United hubs like Houston, Denver, Chicago, and more. However, at least in the case of N401UA, there are also services taking passengers south of the border, to cities like Los Cabos and Mexico City.
At least a few more years?
We know that United’s new incoming 737 MAX jets will replace the old A320s. But what about the widebodies? Well, at least in 2021, United executives were optimistic about operating the 767s further into the future. As we reported at the time, Andrew Nocella, United’s Chief Commercial Officer, had this to say about the airline’s older widebodies:
“We’re carefully looking at the lifespan – the economic lifespan of these widebody jets. I can tell you, prior to the pandemic, we were thinking many of them – particularly the 777 and 767 fleet – could go 30 years or more. I’ll give kudos to our maintenance team for keeping these aircraft in great shape, to allow us to have that option. So we do have optionality to fly these aircraft longer than I think people automatically assume.”
Indeed, the old 767s had cabin refurbishments completed in 2017 and 2018, making their interiors less than six years old.
Still, forward planning is an absolute necessity in this industry, and we know that United is carefully considering which aircraft can be ordered to replace the 767s. In fact, the airline is poised to place a massive order for widebody aircraft, which is expected to be near the end of this year. With expectations that the airline will be seeking over 100 widebodies, the ‘showdown’ is between offerings from Airbus and Boeing. Given United’s current fleet composition, the Airbus A350 appears to be the underdog, while the 787 could be seen as the frontrunner. Meanwhile, the 777X could be an option as well, considering the airline may not be in a huge rush for modernization.
Have you flown on United’s oldest aircraft in recent times? Share your experiences with us by leaving a comment!
- IATA/ICAO Code:
- Airline Type:
- Full Service Carrier
- Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Denver International Airport, Guam International Airport, Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport
- Year Founded:
- Star Alliance
- Scott Kirby
- United States