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United Airlines pilots will soon get confirmed seats in first class

Oct. 08, 2020
3 min read
United Airlines pilots will soon get confirmed seats in first class
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Frequent flyers are all too familiar with the "upgrade list." U.S. airlines offer complimentary first-class upgrades as an elite perk, allowing customers to purchase tickets in economy and score a space-available seat up front, without shelling out any extra cash.

Airlines aren't in the business of giving anything away for free, of course — carriers offer a shot at a free first-class upgrade as a tool to build and maintain loyalty, and it's in everyone's interest to keep that perk intact. So I was a bit surprised to learn that first-class seats would soon be going to United employees ahead of customers, as reported by Live and Let's Fly.

Before you get too excited, know that the move isn't nearly as impactful as it seems on the surface.

As a component of a deal to avoid furloughs as part of United's latest round of staffing cuts, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) negotiated a new permanent perk for its members. As part of the agreement, deadheading United pilots — employees traveling as passengers en route to a flight they're scheduled to work — will be confirmed in the first-class cabin.

It'll soon be much easier for United pilots to secure a first-class seat. Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

If a seat isn't available at booking, deadheading pilots will be upgraded above paying passengers, as long as the deadhead flight is booked more than three hours before departure. Meanwhile, if the first- or business-class cabin is oversold, and a deadheading pilot has already secured a seat, they won't face a downgrade ahead of revenue passengers who received a complimentary upgrade.

A United spokesperson confirmed the change will begin in Dec. 2020, but wasn't able to confirm any additional details.

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Related: United Airlines pilots accept cuts to avoid furloughs on Oct. 1

Ultimately, this shouldn't end up impacting too many elite flyers. Deadheading pilots will be confirmed in a premium cabin if there's space available, so they won't appear above elites on an upgrade list, and the three-hour requirement means that pilots won't be able to book last-minute deadhead flights and appear ahead of a waitlisted elite.

Additionally, I've only encountered deadheading pilots a handful of times during my more than 1 million miles flying United, so this is unlikely to have much bearing on whether or not elites will be able to score an upgraded seat either way.

At the same time, it's a great perk for United pilots on their way to work, and a bit more comfort en route to a high-pressure job can be seen as a net positive for the airline and passengers alike, considering that flying in a first-class seat can be far less stressful than being stuck in a middle seat in coach.

Featured image by Photo by Zach Honig/TPG

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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
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Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees