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American and Delta both designate some seating as “preferred” in their economy cabins, so it was only a matter of time before United made this “enhancement,” too.

United’s offering, expected to launch in the fourth quarter of 2018, was buried in yesterday’s Corporate Preferred program announcement — we’ve since managed to get a bit more detail, though:

“Beginning later this year, at time of booking, select standard economy seats typically closer to the front of the aircraft behind Economy Plus will be available for Corporate Preferred Elite Customers and United MileagePlus Premier customers, free of charge. If these seats are not filled, they will be opened for all customers to select at check-in, free of charge. These preferred seats will be available for purchase for all other customers at time of booking.”

As illustrated in yesterday’s Airbus A319 seat map, preferred seats will be located just behind Economy Plus, and they may or may not include middle seats, depending on the aircraft and row.

Because they’re closer to the front, passengers booking a preferred seat will have earlier access to food and beverage options, and will be able to deplane more quickly. These seats will also be more likely to be left unreserved until just before departure, giving last-minute elite bookers an opportunity to avoid a middle seat even if Economy Plus is already full.

United’s preferred seats will be located just behind Economy Plus, though they won’t offer extra legroom. Photo by Zach Honig.

So far, United hasn’t even hinted at pricing, though there will be a charge for customers without elite status. Hopefully UA will undercut Delta’s pricing, though, which currently runs a whopping $75 each way between New York (JFK) and Los Angeles (LAX) — Comfort+ costs about twice as much.

Meanwhile, American is charging even less for its Main Cabin Extra product on the same route — and rather than selling preferred seats at booking, AA appears to be holding them back for elites.

Overall, preferred seating is good news for elites booking last-minute tickets, but it could severely limit the free seating options for families who don’t book flights months in advance. Fortunately, anyone will be able to pick a preferred seat for free at check-in, though, so customers previously separated may have another shot at sitting next to family and friends — assuming those coveted preferred seats aren’t all booked up by paying passengers and elites.

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