United follows Delta’s lead, allows you to opt out of middle-seat ‘upgrades’

Jul 27, 2021

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Hate getting stuck in a middle seat?

Well, you might be able to avoid one on your next United flight as the carrier just expanded its seating preference options for standby travelers.

Previously, you could only state your preference for an aisle or window seat. Now, you’ll find three new options in the United app when you’re on the standby or upgrade list for a given flight.

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Pending availability, you’ll be able to opt out of the following three seating types:

  • Extra-legroom Economy Plus middle seats.
  • Bulkhead seats.
  • Exit row seats.
(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Though extra-legroom seats may be more comfortable, many travelers would prefer to sacrifice the extra pitch for an aisle or a window seat in the back of the plane.

The same is true for bulkhead seats. While they offer added legroom thanks to the positioning of the cabin wall or closet, your under-seat storage is limited, and the TV screens and tray tables are fixed in the armrest or seat itself.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

As for exit rows, some of the seats don’t recline, and sitting there requires agreeing to assist in the case of an emergency, which might not be everyone’s preference.

United will automatically begin assigning seats, based on your choices and availability, an hour before international flights and 30 minutes before domestic ones.

Note that this new option only collects your seat preference. You’ll still clear the standby or upgrade list even if you’d rather avoid the seat types that are remaining. Additionally, the waitlist will still clear in priority order, with seat preferences only being considered when it’s your turn to be processed.

In explaining the move to TPG, the airline shared that this enhancement was designed to improve the travel experience. “Knowing what our customers prefer and doing our best to honor those based on availability during the standby seat assignment process makes for an even better United travel experience,” according to the airline.

Delta first pioneered a similar seating preference feature back in 2017 to help elites avoid the dreaded middle-seat “upgrade.” Before then, the Atlanta-based carrier would automatically upgrade eligible Medallions to any available extra-legroom Comfort+ seat.

(Screenshot courtesy of Delta)

Some people who’d selected non-Comfort+ exit-row seats found themselves “upgraded” to a middle seat in Comfort+, while others wound up in a bulkhead seat on a regional jet with a large backpack or briefcase — hardly a better spot.

Delta listened to feedback and has since implemented a feature to allow elites to opt in for Comfort+ upgrades, along with a choice of seat preferences: aisle, window or middle.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy .

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