United Strikes Back Against El Al!

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Earlier this month I wrote about El Al announcing new service between San Francisco and Tel Aviv. That service is scheduled to start in Q4.

I wrote in that post,

“United serves that route with 787-8s that do not have direct aisle access from all business class seats, while El Al’s 787s do have direct aisle access from all business class seats.
United could respond by protecting their hub with 77W Polaris service with direct aisle access from all business class seats between San Francisco and Tel Aviv, but that will flood the market with tons of extra coach and business class capacity that will drive down airfares. That could be a short-term strategy to try to force El Al out of the market. But either way, the added capacity should be a good thing for consumers.”

And exactly as I predicted, United has indeed responded by putting a 77W (777-300ER) on the route, effective 5/23 from San Francisco and 5/25 from Tel Aviv. I haven’t flown on an El Al 787 or a United 77W yet, but the 777 is a wider plane than the 787, which should mean more overall space on United in business class.

This is a massive capacity increase in the market.

United started the San Francisco to Tel Aviv route on 3/30/16 with 3 weekly flights and the route was so successful that they increased it to daily flights in October 2016.

The United 787-8 currently on the route has 36 business class seats, 70 economy plus seats, and 113 economy minus seats. The United 77W has 60 business class seats, 102 economy plus seats, and 204 economy minus seats.

Just by itself, that is an incredible capacity increase.

Then later this year El Al plans on adding its 787-9 which has 32 business class seats, 28 premium economy seats, and 222 unpremium economy seats.

In other words the route will go from 36 daily business class seats today to 92 later this year and from 183 daily economy seats today to 556 later this year. It’s hard to believe that kind of capacity increase is sustainable.

The higher capacity will serve to drive down margins and may even make El Al reconsider the route’s potential profitability and viability.

Personally, I’m surprised that El Al is picking San Francisco over Chicago or Washington DC/Baltimore. Sure, San Francisco has the premium tech market business. But in San Francisco they will face brutal entrenched competition from United, and United is clearly signaling that they are willing to defend the route. Plus United owns the San Francisco fortress hub market and has many elite members that are fiercely loyal to United.

It’s worth noting that El Al will have an advantage in coach comfort, but business class is what makes or breaks a route’s profitability.

El Al has a true premium economy cabin on the 787 with wider seats and better amenities, while United’s 77W’s economy plus only consists of extra legroom. United is planning on launching their own premium economy starting with the 787-10 later this year, but it will be many years before that arrives on the 777 fleet.

United packs in 10 seats across on the 77W, even in economy plus. That’s why I recommend taking the afternoon 772 (777-200) between Newark and Tel Aviv if you’re flying in coach as there are only 9 seats across on the 772. On the other hand I’d recommend the evening 77W between Newark and Tel Aviv if you’re flying in business class as it has 4 seats across versus the 6 across on the afternoon 772.

In the Newark to Tel Aviv market, El Al will add a 2nd daily 787 effective 3/25. That capacity increase makes more sense and won’t make any difference in flight pricing as the market will easily beat that flight. It sure would be nice to see United add a 3rd daily flight to that market though 😀

Will United’s move in San Francisco cause El Al to bail on the route before it even begins? Or will this route see gory price battles as El Al battles it out with United? One thing is sure, the competition will be a boon for west coast passengers to Israel!

HT: solma, via DDF


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30 Comments On "United Strikes Back Against El Al!"

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Tony c

I’m sure elal would have assumed united would respond exactly as it did. There’s no way they wouldn’t have expected that as it’s a seemingly simple upgrade. They must have done the numbers with this in mind. But you never know…

apl

Neh, this is big, i doubt ElAl thought they would go this far.

jr

I know a frequent flier on EWR-TLV and on SFO-TLV on United and he said he actually prefers the old business to Polaris. Says it’s very tight, similar to what people are saying about El Al’s 787.

Samyb

I heard the same from a frequent flyer

Go LA

Will be interesting to see if any crazy NYers fly out west to catch a SFO-TLV flight!

Sandy Beach

Somebody come back and run the PHL (Philadelphia) – TLV route. But not American (formerly US AIR). They are terrible! That flight was ALWAYS sold out. Now 3.5 million people between Delaware, South Jersey and Philadelphia /suburbs have to go to EWR for a nonstop, or an extra hour to save $300 from JFK. Or, as I am happy to do next week, go to JFK to take a polite airline like Delta nonstop to TLV.
(BTW, only complaint about Delta is when you fly a connection via Atlanta, nearly every terminal employee is too busy looking at their personal iPhones to answer a question.

dave

i wish united would fly direct from LA too….

Yisroel

I prefer to fly ELAL as they would appreciate our business it is a Yiddish airline which requires us to go with tehrefore i support them even if they are more expensive,

David Moskowitz

Rethink ElAl as a yiddishe airline.

If they appreciate our business let them act as yidden, not just pose as one.

Mango

David;
It is, in 90% of the time the passengers not El Al.
I want to see a Jewish/Israeli person act on a European carrier as they do on El Al

Bostener

Do they observe Sabbath??m

Satmar

They fly on shabbos

Jake

Agreed. The new business seats are really tight. Old ones are much better.

martin

Dan- Many thanks for your wonderful posts and insights. Oh, and of course the deals.

Bob

I can’t believe DC/Baltimore doesn’t have a nonstop yet. It’s a huge untapped market.

PM

@Dan you should join our Facebook group “Kvar Kan” and see how many Israelis are here and what about this collective crying that its hard to find a ticket on this route. People are paying 1500-1800 and the flight is sold out. Moreover, since the route was introduced I hear about people from India who consider this as an additional way to go home.

Amir

I heard UA may add ORD – TLV from a DL flight attendant

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