United Airlines recently announced the largest Transatlantic expansion in its history. The seemingly mundane airline news of the introduction of 10 new flights and five new destinations slated for summer 2022 is actually a game-changer.
Below the surface of what appears to be about attracting more passengers, is the fact that its a major step towards executing the introduction of supersonic jets, which will change air travel as we know it. Making the transition to shorter flights with faster planes requires a long-term strategy and a multi-stage process. And the pursuit of supersonic speeds is a lesson in patience that every founder could be reminded of.
As its competition sought to pare down on offerings over the past year or so, and put a halt on existing routes, United took the opportunity–and nearly $8 billion in PPP loans— to use the downtime to turn up its offering through continued expansion. In a market of little to no meaningful growth or innovation, where the average plane is upwards of 30 years old and advancements are often as benign as new seat configurations that simply squeeze another couple of seats in, United is doing things differently.
United’s new increase in routes around the world is a step towards achieving its bigger goal: to become emissions-free by 2050. Which it plans to do, in part, through the introduction of Concorde-style supersonic jets from Boom.
With speeds of Mach 1.7, you can travel from New York to London in just 3.5 hours instead of 6.5 or from San Francisco to Tokyo in just 6 instead of over 10 hours. But these jets are not only faster, but the’yre lighter and smaller, with a passenger capacity of just 65 to 88–not even one-third the passenger capacity of the Boeing 767 used for New York to London which carries around 218.
While the price of the United Boom tickets will sell at a far higher pricetag than the standard transatlantic flight, with estimated ticket prices hovering around $5,000, there is still inevitable the demand that will be unmet with the smaller capacity. So, United will still want to serve those passengers, meaning United will need to offer more flights.
Logistically, this is a challenge. It not only requires more planes, but it requires more pilots, more airspace (or overflight fees), more gates, more runway time, and more ground staff. But United is acting on its strategy and in its recent announcement, it outlined its goal to create 25,000 unionized jobs by 2026, including pilots, flight attendants, agents, technicians, and dispatchers–the same year United plans to launch Overture’s first flight.
United is working, years in advance, to make this happen years into the future. Innovation and execution take time, and an incredible amount of preparation that typically goes unnoticed. Those that invest upfront, building the framework from the ground up are those that go on to build the strongest brands and the most successful companies.
Reaching supersonic speeds–like building a startup–doesn’t happen overnight, or at liftoff when it becomes evident to the rest of the world. It happens over many months, and even many years. And its the businesses (and the people behind them) that understand this and go in for the long-term, who are those that change the game in the long-run in a feat that appears to be overnight to the rest of the world.