What to Expect From United’s Announcement of Domestic Premium Economy

United Airlines President Scott Kirby told a JP Morgan Chase conference yesterday that it’s considering premium economy for domestic flights. He didn’t provide any details on what that would mean, but it seems like we can make a pretty good guess.

International premium economy seats are like domestic first class seats, but with a foot rest or foot bar. I don’t think domestic premium economy seats themselves are going to get better, because that would then be called ‘first class’. So it’s likely to be bundling services with extra legroom coach seats, and it may mean devaluing MileagePlus elite benefits.

Delta Already Does This

It’s always a reasonable bet that United will just copy what Delta has done. Delta sells their extra legroom coach seats as a separate cabin called “Comfort+” which comes with a free drink and snacks on flights over 900 miles. Elites ‘upgrade’ into these extra legroom coach seats.

Scott Kirby Announced It At American, Too

United President Scott Kirby talked up domestic premium economy when he was President of American Airlines. And he warned that it would mean a devaluation of elite benefits (emphasis mine).

[W]e’re going to treat premium economy like a separate cabin, essentially, so different than what other airlines might call premium economy today, more expansive, more what it looks like, more how it’s treated internationally or how we’re going to treat it internationally.. as a separate cabin, and because of that it will have an impact on the frequent flyer program so that will probably be for 2018 really because we’ll need to tell our frequent flyers in advance how it impacts the frequent flyer program.

Here’s What It Meant at American

So far at American it’s turned out to mean a free drink and a reserved sign for overhead bins in extra legroom coach.

Elites Won’t Benefit, Those Paying Extra for Coach Seats Might

It’s a good bet that elite who currently get extra legroom seats free in advance (or for Silvers at check-in) won’t really be made better off by any domestic premium economy changes. They get priority boarding now. United might put up reserved signs for overhead bins that aren’t likely to be enforced, but that make a great social science experiment in how people follow directions on signs. And they might add a drink and perhaps a snack to longer flights.

And in the process we could see an upgrade process into these seats that restricts access, favoring non-elites spending a little more on a given trip relative to those spending more over the course of the year.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Sounds terrible… but then again anytime you hear the words Scott and Kirby next to each other, you know bad things are around the corner. This guy creates the most fantastic lose-lose relationships between airlines and customers!

  2. You think this will replace United’s economy plus offerings? They have always had the largest E+ sections of U.S. carriers I believe.

  3. Economy plus leaves to much revenue on the table. Many corporate elites would pay more to secure extra legroom if they had to.

  4. I would not be surprised to see the first bulkhead/exit row of Economy Plus seats become Premium Economy.

    I probably shouldn’t have said that. Might put thoughts in their heads…

  5. Like Daniel, I wonder if this is the end of extra-legroom seats that mid-tier elites (gold) can select at purchase. At my level I don’t get enough upgrades to have one be more than a nice treat when they come. But extra legroom is the reason I go out of my way to fly on United. And I guess I’ll stop doing that if the perk goes away.

  6. FIRE Scott Kirby. And if you replace “fire” with another four letter word that begins with F, you have a pretty good idea of how passengers feel about Scott Kirby. The man is a disgrace. I’d rather have Donald Trump himself run airlines than Kirby. Kirby is the worst person to ever be part of the airline industry.

  7. Premium economy sounds a lot like Southwest’s coach product before they added a row of seats and reduced legroom with harder seat cushions.

    Southwest’s flight attendants used to quip “all our seats are first class”. That’s becoming more and more true. How the mighty have fallen..

  8. What we really need, but alas, are unlikely to see soon, is exactly what our political leaders, of both parties, but especially the Republicans if they’re to be taken at their word (yeah, yeah, I know, what they say and what they do often is at odds…), is just a return to good, old fashioned, American (NOT the airline, the country) COMPETITION instead of the current exceptionally greedy, exceptionally selfish and arrogant, Wall Street created Oligopoly, and the Wall Street imposed, greedy business models that are being implemented across the few remaining “faux competitors” by Wall Street’s hand-picked apparatchiks that slavishly follows Wall Street’s marching orders to dehumanize and ruin our airlines in its ruthless pursuit of profits by any means necessary.

    Our current miseries and other consumer abuses would abate if our airlines actually had to compete at being better to earn business, instead of behaving like cable tv/internet providers or the folks at the state run Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), who know they can get away with crappy service and a “Forget U” (as Cee Lo Green meant the expression ) business model where one just has to bend over and take the abuse unquestioningly.

    Yes, this is the sad state of our airlines! They face little, if any, meaningful competition on all but a handful of routes such as NYC-West Coast/Las Vegas, or perhaps, NYC-Chicago, where they actually do seem to compete by stepping up their product offerings (e.g., JetBlue’s Mint, American’s 3-class A321T’s, etc., or “Shuttles” by Delta, and soon American, between LGA-ORD)…

    …but elsewhere, FUGHEDDABBOUDIT!!! …most of us are royally screwed!!!

    “No option-options” filled with nearly identical (and usually awful except for JetBlue which is becoming worse and worse anyway, or Delta which may be better when compared to the rest of the awful and worsening crap [e.g., American and United’s crappy IFE-less, “densified” 737s and other mainline narrowbodies that are actually less comfortable to fly than Embraer 175/190s or CRJ-700/900s]) and AWFUL densified coach cabins where even Extra Space/Legroom rows are shrinking by the inch with each passing year from the 35”-36” pitch they used to be to the barely 34” of now.

    And let’s not even start discussing the atrocious, and ever worsening plethora of bs fees, punishments and penalties that are now inescabable for most, even business travelers, who used to be immune to these abuses when our skies were filled with competitors vying for our hard earned travel dollars instead of now, when instead it’s a choice between the least worst – that is, if we’re lucky!

    For years, even decades, Wall Street’s wish list was to eliminate airlines, shut down hubs, (eliminate jobs, cut pensions, break unions, too), and to “rationalize” (translation: itself control via its hand picked surrogates all too willing put profits over people) capacity as it has now done.

    So, now Wall Street got exactly what it has long sought: a stranglehold over our (too) few airlines, and its long coveted, ability to control managements, pricing, and even to shut down funding for new entrants that might otherwise break the OLIGOPOLY it fought for decades – who knows…probably from the Dawn of Deregulation in 1978 – to create.

    It’s hugely profitable, as we have seen since our skies have become dominated by four major competitors who control more than 80% of the capacity, and have structured their operations to consume virtually all of the available infrastructure (slots, gates, terminal facilities at vital airports) in an effort to prevent new entrants from taking them on and forcing them to do anything more than they do now (which is about on a par with one’s monopolistic cable tv/internet provider, or of course, the occassional and utterly forgettable experience that is a trip to the DMV).

    And it will remain this way, and only get worse, if an absence of competition like we have now continues.

    Folks, it’s NOT rocket science: this is what OLIGOPOLIES look like. This is how they behave and act. Nothing more and nothing less.

    The product degradations and devaluations, the shady business tactics and other deceitful pricing practices, the imposition of more and more fees and other “service charges” (hidden or open and notoriously), most of which now are created through even more cabin manipulations and fare restrictions (e.g., the shameful sham that is Basic Economy or even smaller seats and no legroom economy cabins, etc.) are exactly what one would expect to see in an industry DESPERATELY LACKING COMPETITION or the threat of any competition just over the horizon.

    Just like your local cable tv/internet provider, or the nearby DMV office.

    We need to get out of denial about this, stop complaining here and in other forums about how horrible things have already become (and they’re only getting worse with planes like American’s 737-8 MAX – a plane whose coach/economy section and lavs are so awful even the CEO doesn’t dare to fly aboard it), and demand better in the form of REAL COMPETITION.

    Either that, or we’ll have to simply reregulate our airlines in the not too distant future to prevent the obscence greed knows know limits mentality, and the pervasive callousness, indifference and abject arrogance that has is embodied by nearly all of our remaining airline managements who exist simply to do Wall Street’s bidding by enforcing its sleazy business models and protecting its hand-crafted, anti-consumer, anti-competitve OLIGOPOLY.

    The choice is ours to make as consumers and citizens of a country that preaches the gospel of free market competition, but now seems willing to allow one of the most important sectors of our economy, our airlines, to be controlled by a handful of people whose only care and concerns are lining their own pockets by creating a hugely profitable, now virtually impenetrable to enter as a start up for entrepreneurs, cartel of OLIGOPOLISTIC airlines that by its own, and every other independent criteria, has never been more profitable than it is now.

    Of course it is…when there’s no competition for an essential, even indispensable good, and you can charge a lot for next to nothing, how can it not be exceptionally profitable?

    Again, that’s what OLIGOPOLIES are!

  9. Sorry folks, but from Wall Street’s perspective, Scott Kirby practically walks on water!

    He’s willing to roll over, take Wall Street’s direction, roll up his sleeves and implement its ruthless strategies to achieve obscene amounts of profits (and/or take money out of the company to fund obscenely large stock buybacks) even if it means raping and pillaging the company that ultimately results in vastly degraded products that destroys the airline’s brand, or worse, results in bankruptcy in the future long after he’s left the company after having destroyed it (whenever our country finally wakes up from its slumber and realizes just how badly its being fleeced by the greedy and arrogant interests who are nurturing and protecting the current cartelization of our airlines that has created this horribly abusive, and worsening, airline industry oligopoly)…

    …and laughs all the way to the bank while he cashes in his bonuses and vested stock options that Wall Street bestows as his reward for doing its dirty work…

    Please, Scott Kirby ain’t goin anywhere but to the next airline Wall Street wants to cheapen/degrade and destroy (e.g., see JetBlue post Dave Barger era or in the international space, Bedbug…er…British Airways which currently is on a mission rushing to bring back the “Bloody Awful” days of the 1970s under its current management) in order to further protect the exceptionally lucrative ATM Machine it now has this industry fully under its control that is our OLIGIGOPOLIST run, clearly behaving and most especially, exceptionally profitable, (too) few airlines we are saddled with in an era of limited, if any, meaningful competition that exists right now.

    Scott Kirby, and others like him, are symptoms of the problem we have as a society that has lost its way, and is allowing itself to be destroyed by those who’s only care and concerns are the ruthless accumulation of obscene wealth and power at any cost – even if it means destroying a whole lot more than an industry like our currently awful, and only getting worse, airlines.

    Those who say we have only ourselves to blame for the insults, indignities and other degradations we face when we fly are correct that that we brought this dreadful, and downright abusive situation on ourselves.

    Where they’re wrong, is that this is a function of people being cheap SOB’s and therefore deserving of the abuse and humiliations we face when we travel.

    And the now escalating fleecing that having too few airlines, or an Oligopoly, allows for.

    Where we’re wrong is that we’re allowing this OLIGOPOLY to expand and deepen its chokehold over our country and its economy.

    That’s the problem.

    The obscene greed, and many of the other odious forms of exceptional arrogance, callousness and indifference that are expressed/experienced in the form of escalating product degradations, higher and higher – even ridiculous, unreasonable and preposterous fare categories so laden with restrictions they may pass a legal test for being deemed real and actual but they barely pass the “laugh test” given how they’re so impractical, and if we’re really being honest, exist to dupe the most underinformed, inexperienced, and gullable consumers in our society – fare restrictions and “fences” are the textbook examples of how oligopolies think, act and behave.

    Textbook examples – each and every one of the things we’re seeing happen right before our eyes in an industry that has been winnowed down to just four main players who cumulatively control more than 80% of the capacity in our country.

    The abuses, the arrogance and indifference, the excess profits, the product degradations, the cabin densifications, the exploding and ever increasing fees, the teeny tiny seats, the loos anyone taller than 5-feet can barely fit into, sinks so small they’re useless…and of course, the constant stream of whining and excuses by those who profit most from this oligopoly that we’re to blame for such horrid products.

    What a load of crap!

    But they are right, we do have ourselves to blame!

    First, for allowing this oligopoly to be created right before our eyes and doing nothing to stop it – especially in recent years when the most egregious and excessive expressions of this oligopoly were manifesting themselves.

    But also now, when the reality of this arrogant and abusive cartel that is our current airline industry, as virtually every Economics textbook would likely agree is patently obvious from what we’re experiencing when we fly, and certainly when we whine and complain here and elsewhere in writing, or with friends, family and business colleagues who are experiencing the same abuses and indignities that we do when they fly, and yet, are doing nothing about it to demand better from either the airlines by simply refusing to accept this greed and arrogance, or by electing leaders who commit themselves to restoring desperately needed competition back to our skies by either threatening to implement policies and laws to curb these excessive abuses arising from distortions that ordinarily occur in industries such as cable tv/internet providers that lack the threat of any meaningful competition easily emerging, of failing that, simply reregulate our now very sick from a consumer perspective, airline industry that loves taking our money but otherwise could care less about offering us anything in return.

    We let Wall Street create this horrible and abusive monster that is our oligopolist managed airlines, and now we’re paying a terrible price for letting that happen while Wall Street and a precious few cash in on the sadistic miseries that are purposely created to fatten their, and only their, wallets while we get crammed into ever smaller, hard as park benches seats, in no legroom, IFE-less, teeny tiny bathroom, crappy 737s that are so awful even the CEO who bought the damn plane won’t fly ‘em.

    We can either let this continue – and only worsen more and more.

    Or we can finally stand up and put a stop to this obscene greed, arrogance and indifference that we’re actually paying for!

    The choice is ours…we can have something better than we have now…but we’re gonna have to demand it, and work very hard to take back what was stolen from us: decency and respect for actually choosing to fly with one airline over another because we have an honest to goodness choice between one that invests in us and the customer experience, or one that simply seeks to transfer wealth from consumers to oligarchs without giving a rat’s tail about offering something in return for our business as they do now.

    If you want a David Neeleman, Dave Barger, Sir Colin Marshall, a Lord King or a Gordon Bethune (of the 1990s) instead of a Doug Parker, a Scott Kirby or an Alex Cruz, as flyers, consumers and a society at large, we have to change our values and as a society make clear that enough is enough and its time to get back to putting people on a more equitable footing with profits, instead of the acceptance of an orgy of greed that we have now as a society, and in which our airlines and managers like Scott Kirby are but an expression and symptom of who we are, and what our values as as country and society are in the here and now.

    We can change this horrible industry that has become incredibly arrogant and abusive since it became an oligopoly in recent years if we want to…and have the WILL to…

  10. So much vitriol here. Pathetic. Flyers get exactly what they deserve – to be treated like cattle in exchange for low prices. It’s the WalMart-ization of America. Willingness to accept shoddy products/service in exchange for low prices/wages. Then these same people vote for charlatans like Drumpf who give “middle class tax cuts” that – surprise! – 84% goes to the 1% – and where $1.5T added debt that the 99% gets to pay for. Privatized profits, socialized losses – the Republican way!

  11. Scott Kirby should be fired. Under him customers get hurt, dogs die. United Airlines – Fly The Deadly Skies – or United – We’ll drag you anywhere. Clearly United Airlines is poorly managed. Poorly trained flight attendants…..Cargo people that apparently CAN NOT READ info on dog crates…..Poorly trained mechanics too??? Pilots too???? At this point the flying public must be questioning the over all safety, their safety when flying United, and will be hesitant to book a United flight – to anywhere! I am in MAJOR US airport flight path & I don’t even want United planes flying over my house, my little town, OUR mountain. With United’s poor management it is only a matter of time before accident – not only bad for people on plane that crash – but crash in MY mountains and cause a forest fire – Grrrrrrrr How long before a chunk of blue sh t falls out of one of their planes???? POORLY MANAGED – ANIMAL CRUELTY WITH CUSTOMERS’ PETS…..MURDER OF CUSTOMER – YES THAT DOG WAS A CUSTOMER AND SOME BEEOTCH AND OTHER COWARDLY PASSENGERS RESPONSIBLE FOR MURDER OF THAT POOR TINY DOG. SHAME ON UNITED AIRLINES……AGAIN, ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE POOR MANAGEMENT LEADS TO AN AVIATION DISASTER. UNITED NEEDS TO FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES – ANIMAL CRUELTY, ANIMAL ABUSE.

  12. My post awaiting approval – hmmm – I will be back to see if it was approved, or censored. My post represents the feeling of MANY. One look at United Facebook page – backlash over United’s animal cruelty, United’s flight attendant untruthful – without using the word “liar” Flight attendant called a little girl a liar, AFTER flight attendant responsible for dog death. Flight attendant bullies little girl into putting dog in overhead bin. Flight attendant discriminates ? against little girl and her non English speaking mother. Equally as bad is United customers sitting nearby, row behind, in front of, across aisle, kitty corner across aisle, ALL HAD TO HAVE KNOWN what was going on, heard dog barking in bin and DID ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! What are the odds of 12 to 15 people sitting by and doing nothing when they KNOW something is terribly wrong and a little girl’s dog’s life is in jeopardy!!!???!!! OTHER CUSTOMERS SAID NOTHING PROBABLY BECAUSE CUSTOMERS ARE AFRAID IF THEY SPEAK UP THEN THEY WILL BE ARRESTED WHEN PLANE LANDS. SERIOUSLY. Yes, some customers can be TOO much, unruly….MOST are NOT but ARE treated like they are potential enemy combatants !!!!!! Seems like too often when a passenger speaks up they too end up getting wrath of flight attendant. FLYING COMMERCIAL AIRLINES SUCKS! People are treated like crap. People are kept on planes with dirty air for TOO long, whether at the gate, or worse – sitting on tarmac for HOURS with no fresh air, no water, no food, restrooms overflowing……..I personally would never put up with sitting on tarmac for hours and hours – I would create such a stink – be so out of control – that airline would have to handcuff me, tape my mouth shut, or just throw me off the plane……I would rather sit in jail for 10 hours than be held hostage on a plane on a tarmac for hours. I am livid about the way United has treated animals. NO OTHER AIRLINE ROUTINELY HAS ANIMAL DEATHS, MISHAPS!!! Fire everyone on that flight, including pilots! Pilots can’t control their crew??!!!!??!! Fire CEO, president of United, fire people that train these people. Fire people that hire these crappy employees. United has a REAL image problem and apparently not capable of handling their ‘mistakes’ with ANY integrity IMO. Dishonest, blame the victim – an eleven year old girl called a liar by flight attendant….WOW – clear lack of honesty, integrity. United’s response to dog death – Amateur PR person – fire them too! People scrimp and save to buy airline ticket and then get treated like cattle. Shame on you bourgeoisie pigs at United Airlines!

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