United Airlines pilots will soon get confirmed seats in first class

Oct 8, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

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.
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.

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 photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.