United flight 363 from Newark to Honolulu was supposed to be operated by a Boeing 777 on Saturday. The airline swapped the plane for a Boeing 767-300, and that meant fewer business class seats. The airline needed ten volunteers who were willing to downgrade.
United Airlines Polaris Business Class
Fortunately those passengers didn’t even need to go back to coach seats. While United doesn’t sell its premium economy cabin on the route, the plane they used offered a ‘Premium Plus’ cabin. That meant economy plus was like domestic first class with foot rests. Downgrading passengers wouldn’t have to suffer the 11 hour 22 minute flight in coach seats.
These ten passengers each received $10,000 in travel voucher compensation for volunteering, or $100,000 total for the one flight. And despite the last minute jockeying, the flight still operated on time.
United offering 10 passengers $10,000 each for a downgrade from “business” to “premium plus” on a Newark to Honolulu flight today. What a time to be alive! pic.twitter.com/ZecZKAM2Gz
— Joshua Browder (@jbrowder1) February 23, 2020
United confirms Saturday’s aircraft swap on flight 363 but says they “don’t have anything further to share” preferring not to comment on their own generosity – presumably afraid doing so might actually burnish their reputation. The downgrade of 10 passengers from business to premium plus in exchange for $10,000 in vouchers apiece was confirmed by another passenger on the flight.
There’s one thing about the story that I’m not following though. United frequently operates the route with a Boeing 777-200 that has 50 business class seats. Only one version of the United 767-300ER has premium economy seats and that plane also has 46 business class seats. Unless they were at one point going to operate a Boeing 777-300ER on the route (with 60 business class seats) – something I personally haven’t seen them do – I’m not sure why they’d have been oversold in business by 10 seats as a result of this downgrade.
Update: After I wrote this United reconsidered and got back in touch. Despite multiple passenger reports of 10 passengers being downgraded into premium economy seats, United says it was 5 passengers – and then corrected themselves to confirm that it was 9 passengers. They offered,
Occasionally we have to change aircraft at the last minute and when that happens, we try to make the impact to customers as minimal as possible.