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!