United: More premium seats, new regional jet…

Looking for an upgrade? Tired of cramped regional jets? United wants to be your airline.

United says it’s adding more than 1,600 premium seats to about 250 of its aircraft, part of an effort to compete against rivals for high-spending road warriors.

The carrier is even planning to introduce a new type of 50-seat regional jet. Complete with first-class seats and a self-serve beverage and snack area, United believes the new Bombardier CRJ 550s will help it attract business travelers flying from small markets to its hubs or connecting to international markets.

“We felt like we were at a competitive disadvantage in certain markets,” Andrew Nocella, United’s chief commercial officer, said in an interview with reporters.

“Today we hear all too often that passengers come in from a smaller market trying to access United’s global network, (but) can’t find a premium seat on the short-haul segment,” he said.

He pointed to Bentonville, Arkansas – home to Walmart’s corporate headquarters – as an example of a market where United has been at a disadvantage.  

“Our competitors offer premium seats for the entire journey. United does not. As a result, we have a low share of premium Bentonville passengers to the world,” Nocella said.

In an example United hopes to replicate in similar markets across its network, Nocella said the carrier’s CRJ 550s will be added to its service from Bentonville to Chicago, “connecting to our flights to China and the rest of our … global network.”

“We’ll attract more premium passengers to our network as a result,” he said.

United will deploy its first CRJ 550s at its Chicago hub, adding them on routes of less than 900 miles with high premium demand. Next, they’ll be added to the schedules at United’s hub in Newark, New Jersey.

Nocella declined to identify other United markets that might be a good fit for the CRJ 550 beyond Bentonville, saying only that they’d be announced at a later date.

As another piece of the initiative, United also will increase the number of first- and business-class seats on some of its Boeing 767 widebody jets and on all of its single-aisle Airbus A319 and A320 jets.

On 21 of its Boeing 767-300ERs that typically fly medium-distance international routes, United says it will grow its “Polaris” business-class cabin to 46 lie-flat seats, up from 30. United will reconfigure the planes with 22 of its new “Premium Plus” international-style recliner seats that split the difference between business class and economy. It will be the first time that United’s Boeing 767s get the Premium Plus seats, which were first introduced last year on the airline’s Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners.

IN PICTURES: United Airlines’ new international-style ‘Premium Plus’ seats (story continues below)

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United's new international-style “Premium Plus” premiumUnited’s new international-style “Premium Plus” premium economy seats are seen on its first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner at Washington Dulles on Nov. 16, 2018. Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAYFullscreenUnited's new international-style “Premium Plus” premiumUnited’s new international-style “Premium Plus” premium economy seats have and 13-inch seatback screens Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAYFullscreenUnited's new international-style “Premium Plus” premiumUnited’s new international-style “Premium Plus” premium economy seats are seen on its first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner at Washington Dulles on Nov. 16, 2018. Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAYFullscreenUnited Airlines’ first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner isUnited Airlines’ first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner is seen at Washington Dulles on Nov. 16, 2018. Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAYFullscreenUnited's new international-style “Premium Plus” premiumUnited’s new international-style “Premium Plus” premium economy seats are seen on its first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner at Washington Dulles on Nov. 16, 2018. Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAYFullscreenSeat controls for United's new international-styleSeat controls for United’s new international-style “Premium Plus” premium economy seats are seen on its first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner at Washington Dulles on Nov. 16, 2018. Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAYFullscreenSeat controls for United's new international-styleSeat controls for United’s new international-style “Premium Plus” premium economy seats are seen on its first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner at Washington Dulles on Nov. 16, 2018. Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAYFullscreenUnited's new international-style “Premium Plus” premiumUnited’s new international-style “Premium Plus” premium economy seats are seen on its first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner at Washington Dulles on Nov. 16, 2018. Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAYFullscreenUnited's new international-style “Premium Plus” premiumUnited’s new international-style “Premium Plus” premium economy seats include fold-down foot rests. Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAYFullscreenUnited's new international-style “Premium Plus” premiumUnited’s new international-style “Premium Plus” premium economy seats are seen on its first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner at Washington Dulles on Nov. 16, 2018. Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAYFullscreenUnited Airlines branding is seen onboard the carrier'sUnited Airlines branding is seen onboard the carrier’s first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner at Washington Dulles on Nov. 16, 2018. Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAYFullscreenUnited's new international-style “Premium Plus” premiumUnited’s new international-style “Premium Plus” premium economy seats are seen on its first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner at Washington Dulles on Nov. 16, 2018. Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAYFullscreenInterested in this topic? You may also want to view these photo galleries:ReplayUnited's new international-style “Premium Plus” premium1 of 12United's new international-style “Premium Plus” premium2 of 12United's new international-style “Premium Plus” premium3 of 12United Airlines’ first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner is4 of 12United's new international-style “Premium Plus” premium5 of 12Seat controls for United's new international-style6 of 12Seat controls for United's new international-style7 of 12United's new international-style “Premium Plus” premium8 of 12United's new international-style “Premium Plus” premium9 of 12United's new international-style “Premium Plus” premium10 of 12United Airlines branding is seen onboard the carrier's11 of 12United's new international-style “Premium Plus” premium12 of 12AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext Slide

United’s new international-style “Premium Plus” premium economy seats were seen on its first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner at Washington Dulles on Nov. 16, 2018.

With the overhaul, the seating capacity on the 21 reconfigured Boeing 767s will drop to 167 from the current 214.

United initially plans to fly the reconfigured 767s between its hub in Newark to London Heathrow “as our primary focus and later on other premium markets.”

The first reconfigured 767 will begin flying for United this month, with the effort continuing into 2020.

United will continue to fly some Boeing 767s with their current seating arrangements, with Nocella saying those will operate “to Europe and South American destinations with lower levels of premium demand.”

“By operating two distinct 767-300 interior configurations, we ca

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