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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  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. Some of the perks for working with the airlines.
    Sorry to inform you.
    Have an awesome day.

  5. 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!!!

  6. 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?

  7. 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.

  8. This is a great policy, who wouldn’t want their pilots more relaxed and rested. Also space available, complementary first class upgrades that’s the key here. If you purchase a first class ticket it is not getting taken away from you you just might have a less of a chance for a free upgrade. This is nothing to make a big deal out of there’s not that many pilots flying around and again if first class very important you still have the ability to purchase those seats the impact to the every day flying person is going to be very minimal. Pilots getting to work well rested and on time is very important to keeping the schedule moving so overall if this helps with that it’s a good thing. Deadhead pilots are required as part of their duties to sit in the back to travel for work. Getting stuck in the back in a middle seat when after you land you’re going to be flying people around for the next 8-10 hours isn’t a good feeling.

  9. Just one more example where the employees are more important than the paying customers. Marketing 101, Customers should always come first, especially over “employee perks”. It may be a “perk”, but it shouldn’t be a right. PMUA did this before when they gave ownership to the pilots and all it did was to let them act even more entitled to F seats. No wonder UA has a lousy service culture, and can’t ever seem to make a profit. As a LT Plat & 1K, this upgrading the staff over customers really annoys moi.
    I can remember flying AA back when they both made $ and had decent service. CEO Crandall was on my flight. He gave up his F seat for a paying customer, no questions asked. No one at UA seems to have that sort leadership and culture these days.

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