I was in Maui and Molokai last week and flew home Thursday on American, though I nearly switched to United after our flight was delayed.
However United flies their pre-merger United 777-200s with a high density 2-4-2 configuration in business class and would have required stops in Honolulu and Denver on the way home, which isn’t a particularly attractive option.
United flies those older 777-200s, which have Pratt & Whitney 4000 series engines, on many Hawaii routes. They fly their pre-merger Continental 777-200LRs and their newer 777-300ERs, which have GE engines and Polaris business class seating in a 1-2-1 configuration on higher margin international routes.
2 days later, United flight 328 from Denver back to Honolulu had an engine fire climbing out of Denver and had to do an emergency return to the airport after the plane dropped debris onto houses and cars in Broomfield, CO. Luckily there were no injuries.
Updated images of United Airlines #UA328 Boeing 777-200 (N772UA) shows severe damage to the #2 engine fan blade, sooting of engine high pressure + reverser unit as well as impact damage in the center wingbox underbelly. @CBSDenver pic.twitter.com/dPhY7br89x
— JACDEC (@JacdecNew) February 22, 2021
Here is the ATC play by play:
The incident happened on a 777 with the registration number N772UA, which has flown for United for more than 26 years. The pilots did a flawless job landing the jumbo on one working engine.
In February 2018, a United 777 with registration number N773UA had a similar Pratt & Whitney 4000 series engine fire from San Francisco to Honolulu. That plane was delivered to United with N772UA in 1995. Ironically enough, that very plane that had the 2018 incident, N773UA, is what United wound up using as the rescue plane to eventually fly the passengers from Denver to Honolulu this past Saturday.
United has temporarily grounded their 777 subfleet that have Pratt & Whitney 4000 series engines as the NTSB investigates. JAL and ANA have done the same.
While the Boeing 737MAX fiasco was wholly Boeing’s fault, this appears to be an issue that only affects 777s with Pratt & Whitney engines as there have been no issues with 777s that have GE engines.
Boeing issued a statement supporting the grounding of 777s with Pratt & Whitney 4000 series engines. There are 69 active 777s with Pratt & Whitney engines worldwide and another 59 in storage. United has 24 of those in active service and another 28 in storage.
As United often serves up the high density 777s with Pratt & Whitney engines on their Hawaii flights, I took a look at some of the United planes flying to Hawaii this week.
Here are some samples below. In normal times, United doesn’t operate any Polaris business class seating with direct aisle access, but I found quite a few due to the subfleet grounding:
- Chicago-Honolulu: 767-300ER (Polaris seating)
- Chicago-Maui: 767-300ER
- Denver-Honolulu: 787-8 (GE Engine/Polaris seating)
- Denver-Kona: 757-200
- Denver-Lihue: 757-200
- Denver-Maui: 757-200
- Houston-Honolulu: 767-300ER
- Los Angeles-Honolulu: 777-300ER (GE Engine/Polaris seating)
- Los Angeles-Kona: 737-900
- Los Angeles-Maui: 757-300
- San Francisco-Honolulu: 777-300ER (GE Engine/Polaris seating)
- San Francisco-Kona: 737-800
- San Francisco-Lihue: 737-800
- San Francisco-Maui: 777-200 (GE Engine/Polaris seating)
In other news, United now plans to fly nonstop from Chicago to Kona with 4 weekly 787-8 flights from June 3 through September 5 and from December 17 through January 2. Those will be United’s first normally scheduled flights to have decent odds of having Polaris business seating.
They will also fly from Newark to Maui with 4 weekly 767-300 flights from June 3 through September 5 and from December 17 through January 3.
United will also resume an old Continental route that it cancelled during the merger process, from Orange County/SNA to Honolulu daily on a 737-700.
Only time will tell just how long the 777 with Pratt & Whitney engines will be grounded for, but in the meantime lucky passengers are going to get a nice Polaris or premium economy seat upgrade!