United Airlines Will Start Giving Customer Upgrade Seats To Pilots Instead

JP Morgan’s Jamie Baker writes in an investor note that the deal United Airlines struck with its pilots union to avoid 3000 furloughs includes giving the pilots first class seats that might have gone to customers as upgrades.

Pilots also achieved permanent, positive-space First Class deadheads, with stand-by eligibility before paying passengers, addressing a union goal dating back at least a decade (and effectively representing a devaluation of frequent flyer Elite benefits that travel bloggers haven’t picked up on ‒ yet)

United pilots got tightened scope restrictions (limits on United Express flying) and a wage increase when the airline returns to profitability in exchange for reducing pilot minimum hours. This way United can keep more pilots on the job and reduce retraining expenses. But it’s the positive space first class deadheading that means fewer first class seats available for customers.

In the near-term this shouldn’t be much of an issue. Premium cabin demand is low enough that as long as United maintains the size of its forward cabins upgrades should be easier than they used to be for a little while. Over time though this means pilots do trump passengers, and that’s not good for passengers who are last in line – elites looking to upgrade.

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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Comments

  1. Dallas –

    Disagreement is acceptable, but little retorts such as “get over it” displays an immature temperament. Try a bit harder next time to provide some rationale for your stance.

  2. Dave

    After reading the blog and the comments, I feel I am fully informed. It’s unimportant to me whether the passenger qualifies for the first class seat via complimentary upgrades earned through loyalty, or other means. So thanks for your veiled insult, but I stand by my conviction that passengers should always have priority over deadheading pilots

  3. Dave, They do bump revenue pax off!!! As a former UA gate agent, I had to go ask all the first class passengers if they would give up their seat to a pilot. They all said no, so we had to research who paid the least and move them to coach. It was a nasty scene! We had to get the chief pilot involved. I refused to do this again. Worst customer service ever!!!

  4. Ken
    I must say you are not well inform.
    Especially on this topic.
    And the agreement between the Pilot’s and their company.
    So try and get the proper information and some knowledge on this topic !
    Which clearly you have very little of !!!!
    Have an amazing day
    Stay inform
    And stop be so selfish!!!

  5. So Ken, I can assume if the Station Manager at LAX had to go to a required company meeting
    in ORD and UAL made a First Class reservation for him/her to attend you would be equally incensed or it’s just deadheading pilots pilots that shouldn’t be in First? What about a VP going to a meeting?

  6. The pilots have paid for the seats via reduced pay. The seats are being paid for just like a company buying a seat for its traveling employees. There’s really nothing to see here.

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