United Continental Merger Update: Economy Plus Lives


One of the big questions surrounding the merger between United and Continental was whether or not the merged carrier would adopt the Economy Plus seating that United has been featuring.   United has basically added 5 inches of legroom to the first few rows of economy.  Continental did not.  This week, they announced that Continental will indeed add an Economy Plus section to their planes, starting next year.   As is usual at United, the migration will happen at a snails pace, years into the future.  United is still replacing their business and first classes that they announced years ago.   In this way, they get all the benefits of marketing, with none of the cost of actually refurbishing their airplanes.   To this day, it is a crap shoot  when you book a ticket on United as to whether or not you will receive a competitive premium product, or something more suited to the 80s.

What I Don’t Like About Economy Plus

At first, they merely allowed their Premiers to sit in E+.  Later, they started selling it at the time of purchase, check in, and even at the gate.   Harsh warnings were introduced that anyone caught sitting in an otherwise vacant E+ seat without having paid for it would be ejected from the cabin while in flight, and possibly ingested by the jet engine.   This just added another layer confusion, confrontation, and upsell that United fliers were forced to endure.   By restricting unpaid access to empty seats, United effectively created a 3 class domestic cabin with a 4 class international one.  The only difference between E+ and E- was the extra 5 inches of legroom.  Frankly, 5 inches is a lot.   It is almost possible to exit your seat with the tray table down, and E+ sometimes seems lengthier than even an exit row.  At the same time, the E- seats remain as cramped as ever, with a 31 inch pitch.

Call me a commie bastard, but I prefer Southwest’s arrangement with a more reasonable 33″ pitch for everyone.   I like extra legroom, but I don’t like the confusion, upsell, and threats that accompany the whole E+ equation.   The entire philosophy of United seems to be the monitization of even the most trivial perks.  They actually sell priority boarding by itself.  This goes over as well for me as it would if a restaurant started charging for silverware, tap water, or napkins.

So congratulations to all the United and Continental elites who have been depending on E+ to avoid the scourge of E-.   I don’t fault you for liking it, but United will have change a lot more to win back my business.

Just don’t expect Continental to finish converting their all of their aircraft before a manned mission to occurs.

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