First, welcome to a.net. I think you will find this particular forum very informative, stimulating and sometimes a little entertaining.
With regard to lie flat seats, in Business Class, NW
comes the closest to a lie-flat seat in World Business Class on the A330. COs Business First has quasi lie-flat in the 777, but it does not go completely flat. It must also be noted that both carriers products are not horizontal, but slope down to the floor. This seems to be the trend in Business Class lie-flat seats.
United has introduced the SkyBed product that is currently used on Singapore AIrlines Raffles Class (Business Class) in their JFK
transcon 'Premium Service' product on their reconfigured 757s. I suspect this is a test to see how popular these seats are with business travelers in F class domestic before making an investment in this product on their worldwide fleet. Herein lies the issue: United does not have the money to make that kind of spend on their aircraft unless they make some serious decisions regarding aircraft type for their long haul product. The SkyBed can be used on 777s and 767s, so if United were to reconfigure themselves for two cabins on the 767 and the 777, then they might be able to handle a phased in introduction of that product.
I believe these seats cost in the realm of $50K per seatpair, so if you do the math, it is in the hundreds of millions of dollars to reconfigure their fleet, which they do not have the money to do right now.
US carriers are losing some traffic to the lie flat international carriers, especially those that are within their alliances. The problem is this: These airilnes need to recapture that market in order to become profitable again. In order to do that, they need to put in the seats. They do not have the money to put in the seats, so they can't capture the market. It is a chicken and egg argument. My view is that both all the US carriers who operate overseas will have to modify their products in order to be competitive. When this will happen is an open question, since more carriers seem to be headed the way of Chapter 11 these days.
My belief is that it will take some investment on the part of the alliance partners if the alliance is intent on building a consistent product across all the airline brands. Since Star is the alliance in the best cohesive management shape, they may just be able to scrape up the cash to loan to United for the fleet overhaul. However, in return, there will definitely be more pressure on United to revenue share on all the alliance markets. While United perceives this to be a bad thing, if they do revenue share, then all United has to do is increase its market share by improving the onboard product beyond the seat issue. In this way, even if the share the revenue, they will get a bigger piece of the pie, since revenue share payouts tend to be based on the market share percentage of passengers carried on the route operated by two or more alliance partners.
As you can see, the issue is much more complex than just losing passengers to the competition. I hope you find this post helpful in your understanding of the issue, and once again, welcome to a.net.
David L. Lamb, fmr Area Mgr Alitalia SFO 1998-2002, fmr Regional Analyst SFO-UAL 1992-1998