As far as I am concerned, United botched the official rollout of its premium economy product on premium transcontinental routes. It’s all about communication…
Over the weekend, United began selling Premium Plus seats on select flights between Newark and San Francisco/Los Angeles. The Boeing 787-10 features Premium Plus on all aircraft, which offer a wider seat with more legroom and recline. Some 777-200s on the route feature a retrofitted cabin with Premium Plus as well. United uses a mix of 757s, 777s, and 787s on premium transcontinental routes.
Up until now, MileagePlus elite members could reserve these seats as if they were EconomyPlus seats; at time of booking for Premier Golds and above and during check-in for Premier Silvers. Service was identical to EconomyPlus, which included a free meal and alcohol.
But now United is selling Premium Plus seats as a separate class of service. Originally, this transition occurred on October 1, 2019 (i.e., three days notice). As of this morning, it now appears the transition to a separate cabin will occur on November 1, 2019. Fares are averaging about $400 each way for advance purchase.
Small Problem: What Can Passengers Expect?
Ok, so United will now charge a premium for Premium Plus. That’s reasonable. But what will Premium Plus include? Up until now, United has not formally announced domestic Premium Plus service nor indicated what kind of service passengers can expect.
I reached out to United for clarification and was told transcontinental Premium Plus customers will receive:
- At The Airport
- Premier Access check-in and priority boarding
- Two standard checked bags
- More spacious seats with additional legroom, recline and width
- Larger inflight entertainment monitors (up to 13 inches)
- An elevated dining experience with complimentary alcoholic beverages
One perk caught my eye. What does an “elevated dining experience” actually mean? I’ve asked United for clarification and will update this story when that information is provided.
What About Passengers Who Already Had Seats Reserved?
Many passengers, some who had booked months in advance, found themselves suddenly booted out of their Premium Plus seats. These were not just elite members who pre-reserved the seats, but non-status passengers who had paid a premium to reserve specific seats in the Premium Plus cabin.
On Saturday, all seat assignments in Premium Plus after October 1st were wiped away. Many ended up in “deep coach” since the EconomyPlus cabin is small on these aircraft and all the seats were taken.
Today, customers traveling in October were given a reprieve and can now move back to EconomyPlus. But those traveling on or after November 1st will no longer have free access to Premium Plus seats.
United told me:
When we changed the schedule to a three-cabin aircraft, customers were moved to open Economy Plus seats. For flights in October, we worked to move customers who had originally selected a Premium Plus seat, back into Premium Plus as a courtesy. For flights after October, customers will be able to book available Economy Plus seats which is consistent with the experience most of these customers are expecting.
Reasonable But Unnecessary
United’s decision is reasonable, but I’d call it unnecessary…a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach. Why alienate your elite members with no notice, especially when many of them cannot even book EconomyPlus seats now (because the cabin is full)?
Of course United has a right to charge more for these superior seats. But why not start charging from a certain date and not go back to retroactively punish those who took advantage of what they were offered with no disclaimer that the seats were not guaranteed.
Those who paid for EconomyPlus seats in the Premium Plus cabin should be offered a refund.
With the rollout of Premium Plus as a separate cabin, passengers can expect a better meal and other perks. But United should do the right thing and allow passengers who had Premium Plus seat assignments, even several months in the future, to keep them. It should also make very clear the specifics of the new domestic class of service.
> Review: United 777-200 Premium Plus