I was very critical of United Airlines yesterday, arguing that the carrier’s business model and frankly its persona from the top down would make wining back lucrative business customers much more difficult than CEO Jeff Smisek envisions. I stand by that analysis, though I want to make clear that life is not terrible at United Airlines.
For the first time in nearly a year (yes, I’ve been quite fortunate), I missed an upgrade on a transcon flight. I was flying from San Francisco – Philadelphia on Sunday night and the A319 operating the flight had only eight seats in first class. Despite buying the fare a week in advance, when first was only booked 4/8, and applying a regional upgrade, the cabin filled up and I found myself number five on the upgrade waitlist with the cabin booked full.
Because redeyes are (theoretically at least) for sleeping, I wasn’t quite as agitated. I had to be in Philadelphia early on Monday morning, so I could not re-route via Chicago, Newark, Washington, or Houston–I was stuck with the chosen routing. Turns out, the flight was pretty good. At least as good as coach can be…
I had an aisle seat in Economy Plus and noticed upon boarding that every seat on the plane had a blanket (sealed in a plastic bag). Others seemed surprised too–I was not aware UA still provided blankets on redeye flights behind the curtain. Legroom was more than adequate and recline was not terrible. The purser made all announcements prior to takeoff and the cabin staff quickly did a drink run–with a smile on their faces. That was key for me: the crew was smiling and happy. Admittedly, it is almost pathetic that I would even note that: the crew should be that way on every flight…but we who fly United know this is not often the case.
The crew monitored the cabin during the flight, keeping passengers hydrated in coach and performing a coffee/tea/orange juice run prior to landing. I managed to sleep for a couple hours and we landed in Philadelphia 10 minutes early.
I find it hard to imagine how a coach flight could be any better in the US. Maybe the fact that I was in coach depsite flying over 150K miles with United last year speaks to the business traveler problem at United–more than one reader opined yesterday that “it’s all about the ugprade” and I understand that. But I also figure that depsite paying $241 for my one-way fare, United got me to Philadelphia on time, allowing me to enjoy most of Sunday in California.
I’ll be doing the same flight again soon…let’s hope for an upgrade next time. But with extra legroom, friendly service, and a topped-off beverage, I can handle coach for a 4.5 hour flight.