Economy Plus to Stay on New United

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When it was announced that Continental and United were merging, naturally a million questions followed. Inquiries like, “Whose logo will they use?” and “Who will be the CEO?” were the main speculations.  As more information has been released (they are using a combination of logos and Continental’s Jeff Smisek will be the CEO), one of the more distressing questions on the minds of many Continental and United frequent flyers became, “Will they keep Economy Plus??”

Economy Plus, United’s premium economy section featured on all of its aircraft, offers more legroom. The seats are no different than regular coach seats, but they are generally in the front of the coach cabin and have more space.  This can be a lifesaver, especially for tall travelers like me. Continental on the other hand, does not have a premium economy cabin, so with Smisek at the helm, many thought the product might be cut in order to streamline (many thought that it wouldn’t be cost effective to add Economy Plus to all of Continental’s fleet).

Well the naysayers were wrong, because it was announced that the new United will indeed feature the Economy Plus cabin. This is a huge win for United flyers who have grown accustomed to the product – especially the elite status passengers who get to occupy these seats for free. Non-elite passengers can purchase a yearly “membership” to Economy Plus for $425.

Continental’s decision to keep this offering may have something to do with Delta unveiling their new international premium economy cabin. Delta is Continental’s main competitor out of the NYC area, so not having a premium economy cabin could have turned into a liability.

While it is settled that United will be keeping Economy Plus, we are still waiting for further information, such as whether first class seats will be taken out to accommodate space for E+. Continental and United already have relatively small first class cabins, so if they pull first class seats, it will impact their top tier elite’s upgrade percentages – which could surely anger top flyers. A United spokesperson attempted to answer these types of burning questions on Flyertalk, but didn’t really put much to rest:

  1. Why wait until 2012 to start? As with any major cabin retrofit program, there’s a fair amount of engineering and planning that needs to be done before we can start on the first aircraft. This is the amount of lead time we need to get the process started.
  2. Will Economy Plus be installed at the expense of First Class or Economy Class seats? This is yet to be decided. It’s an important decision, especially for our domestic fleet, and one we’re putting a lot of thought into.
  3. Will Elites still have complimentary access to Economy Plus? The short answer is yes. As many of you know, Continental and United Elites have different policies for accessing extra legroom seating. Currently, on Continental-operated flights, extra legroom seats (select bulkhead and exit row seats) are complimentary to OnePass Gold/Platinum/Presidential Platinum and Mileage Plus Premier Executive/1K/Global Services members in advance, and to all Elite members from both programs at check-in. On United-operated flights, Elite members of both programs have access to Economy Plus both in advance and at check-in. We will be harmonizing this policy in the coming year as we further synch up our two loyalty programs.
  4. What about the p.s. transcon product, 3-cabin First Class, and other configuration decisions? There are indeed several more aircraft configuration blanks to fill in, which we expect to announce throughout the year. Stay tuned!

Lots more to come, but overall I think this a good move on United’s part and I bet their frequent flyers are generally happy with the decisions.

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