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Boston – The New Battleground for Airlines?

United Airlines Boeing 757

Boston

For Summer 2015, United Airlines (UA) will experiment using a Boeing 757 aircraft with Premium Service (PS)® configuration on one of two daily flights from Boston (BOS) to Los Angeles (LAX).

Boston – The New Battleground for Airlines?

UA will have run this service between July 2 to August 17, 2015. PS configured aircrafts will have lie-flat seats instead of recliner seats in BusinessFirst® (UA’s version of Business Class). There are significant difference between the the Domestic 757s to the PS 757s as highlighted below by the infographics.

United Airlines Boeing 757 Domestic Configuration
United Airlines Boeing 757 Domestic Configuration – Information taken from United Airlines’ website. Infographic created by Experience The Skies. March 3, 2015 (All Rights Reserved)
United Airlines Boeing 757 PS Configuration
United Airlines Boeing 757 PS Configuration Information taken from United Airlines’ website. Infographic created by Experience The Skies. March 3, 2015 (All Rights Reserved)

In particular, the PS configured 757 will feature the latest business class seat which can be converted into a lie flat bed. Audio Video on Demand screens are available in all classes as is WiFi connectivity through Gogo Air. Each passenger will have an USB port to charge their devices with AC power port available individually for each BusinessFirst passenger and shared between Economy passengers (2 for each 3).

UA announced that this flight will not have the full PS service (including enhanced meal, amenity kit, duvet/pillow and United Club® access) treatment.

United Airlines Boston to LA PS Service

United Airlines Boston to LA PS Service Information taken from United Airlines’ website. Infographic created by Experience The Skies. March 3, 2015 (All Rights Reserved)

The PS service is timed conveniently for business travellers working on their way to Boston on UA528 and back to Los Angeles on UA 717.

Competitive Analysis

By July 1, 2014, there will be 14 non-stop flights between Boston and Los Angeles. It is one of the busiest routes from the east coast to Los Angeles (The route ranks 2nd after JFK with the most flights from one airport and 3rd when multiple airports from one city is considered).

Virgin America (VX), American Airlines (AA), United Airlines, Delta Air Lines (DL) and JetBlue Airways (B6) are the 5 airlines that have non-stop flights between Boston and Los Angeles currently. JetBlue is the dominate carrier and operates a mini hub here.

July 1 - Boston to Los Angeles Non Stop flights
July 1 – Boston to Los Angeles Non Stop flights – Information taken from Google Flight on March 3, 2015 (All Rights Reserved)

Frequency

From a frequency perspective, AA has the most with 5 roundtrips a day followed by B6 and VX with 3. UA and DL has the least flights with 2 a piece. For passengers that want to have a full day in Boston, B6 has the last flight from Boston to Los Angeles departing at 1952 (752pm). All 5 airlines have red-eye flights between 2100 to 2300 (9-11pm) travelling west to east.

Service

Except for UA which will feature the PS service on one daily flight, all the other airlines are using a combination of Airbus A319/320 (VX, B6, UA (2nd of 2 daily flight)) and Boeing 737 (AA and DL) between Boston and Los Angeles.

Having the same configuration as the New York (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles routes would give UA a competitive advantage in courting business travellers who may not mind paying more for the extra comfort associated with this enhanced aircraft.

JetBlue Airways

Back in November 2014, Experience The Skies reported that B6 is considering whether to expand its successful MINT® product to Boston (refer to this post). The specialized Airbus A321-200 has the same amenities featured on the PS Service and played an integral part in disrupting yields on the US transcontinental route (JFK-SFO/LAX) with its US$599 pricing for the first 4 seats.  B6 can use the opportunity as the dominant carrier in Boston to take the leadership role with a better product.

Although the New York based airline has 53 A321s on order (22 high density and 30 neo), only 1 has the MINT product. It will take a good business case to convert some of the orders to this configuration before it can roll this service out to Boston.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCqfnkTHBks

American Airlines / Delta Air Lines / Virgin America

Los Angeles plays hubs to both AA and DL with a lot of international feeder traffic from Asia and domestic traffic from the greater LA area. There may be some appetite for both airlines to enhance its Boston to Los Angeles service especially if 1. UA is successful in its experiment or 2. B6 introduces the MINT product.  Currently, both  uses Boeing 737 aircrafts for this route with a product that ranks behind VX.

VX has a consistent product that has been featured on Experience The Skies (refer to this post). It competes well with all the other airlines mentioned here with the exception that its business class seat does not recline into a lie-flat bed.

Other Considerations

As JetBlue already dominants the Boston market, there is less opportunity for other low cost carriers like Southwest Airlines and Spirit Airlines to enter for the time being. As the US aviation battlefield intensifies, Boston would be a future market for these airlines to consider.

Given this is not a true PS service, UA elites should be able to use their regional instruments to upgrade this route instead of a system wide upgrade. Additionally, there would be more seats available for upgrade.

Final Call

Boston may be the next battleground for airlines chasing for higher yields with a market that lacks a true premium service in the marketplace. It is good to see United Airlines placing an enhanced aircraft on this route in the Summer. The airline should consider going one step further and implement the Premium Service product for this flight as an experiment. With a little marketing, this flight could be in high demand.

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