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United Airlines will feature more legroom, seat-back entertainment and faster WiFi. Photo courtesy of United Airlines

United Airlines just placed the biggest aircraft order in its history and expects to create 25,000 unionized jobs by 2026 in an effort to capitalize on the astonishing rebound in passenger travel.

Why it matters: This is one of those "go big or go home" moments for the airline industry, which was devastated by pandemic-related travel restrictions worldwide. Domestic leisure travel has bounced back, but business and international travel remain depressed, making United's plan a significant bet on future growth.

What they're saying: "Everything we see, every day, tells us that business and international travel will ultimately come back 100%," United CEO Scott Kirby told reporters late Monday.

  • "What you're seeing in the marketplace is that as people travel more for leisure, the resistance to traveling for business is rolling back quickly," added chief commercial officer Andrew Nocella. That will only accelerate in the fall after kids go back to school in much larger numbers, he said.
  • "Next summer, travel across the Atlantic is going to be an absolute record-breaker," Nocella predicted.

Details: United announced the purchase of 270 new Boeing and Airbus aircraft — its biggest ever, and the largest by any carrier in the past decade.

  • Combined with previous orders, United plans to take delivery of 500 new planes between now and 2026, replacing at least 200 smaller regional jets with larger aircraft.
  • The fleet overhaul means United will increase the total number of available seats across its domestic network by almost 30% per departure.

Flying should become more pleasurable as a result, with more premium seats available in first class and economy plus, giving passengers the opportunity to upgrade with more legroom, said chief customer officer Toby Enqvist.

  • The new planes will feature seat-back entertainment in every seat, significantly larger overhead bins, better lighting and faster WiFi.
  • Existing planes will be retrofitted to match the passenger experience of the new ones.
  • With a 1:1 ratio of overhead bins to passengers, United aims to address one of the biggest pain points of flying — anxiety about stowing carry-on bags.
  • More and larger bins will mean less crowding at the gate, fewer gate-checked bags and faster boarding, the company said.

What to watch: United plans to add 100 flights per day in Chicago, Denver and Houston, and expects domestic and international growth of 4% to 6% over the next few years.

To support that growth, the airline said it will add up to 25,000 jobs, mostly at its seven domestic hubs.

  • That includes as many as 5,000 new jobs in Newark, New Jersey, 4,000 in San Francisco and up to 3,000 each in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Houston and Denver. Los Angeles can expect up to 1,400 new jobs.

The bottom line: United is well-positioned for a fast recovery, Kirby said, because it struck a union deal early in the pandemic to keep pilots on staff and maintain their training requirements, unlike other airlines now facing pilot shortages.

Go deeper

Biden: "No question" Delta variant is to blame for poor jobs report

President Joe Biden speaking at the White House on Sept. 2. Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images

There is "no question" that the Delta variant is to blame for the disappointing August jobs report, President Biden said in remarks on Friday, a fact that he argued underscores the importance of continuing to vaccinate Americans and passing his economic agenda.

Why it matters: The U.S. economy added only 235,000 jobs last month, significantly lower than what economists expected in part because of the surge in new coronavirus cases driven by the Delta variant.

24 mins ago - World

In reversal, Pentagon now says drone strike killed 10 Afghan civilians

Caskets for the dead are carried towards the gravesite as relatives and friends attend a mass funeral for members of a family that is said to have been killed in a U.S. drone airstrike, in Kabul on Aug. 30. Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A U.S. drone strike launched on Aug. 29 killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan, including seven children, rather than the Islamic State extremists the Biden administration claimed it targeted, the Pentagon said Friday.

Why it matters: U.S. Central Command said at the time that officials "know" the drone strike "disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat" to Kabul's airport, and that they were "confident we successfully hit the target."

UN warns of "catastrophic" climate change failure without more emissions cuts

UN Secretary-General António Guterres at a news conference. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

A United Nations report released Friday warned that the planet will likely warm by more than 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century unless governments take extra steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Why it matters: The report, released just months ahead of November's UN Climate Summit, highlights the growing pressure on global leaders to crack down on emissions to avert the worst effects of climate change.