United Will Start Filling Middle Seats With Employees And Other Non-Rev Passengers

Southwest, Delta, and JetBlue are limiting the number of seats they sell on each flight so there’s no need for passengers to occupy middle seats. Sometimes middle seats will be taken, but that usually means families traveling together. American Airlines has been limiting loads about half as much as others – but that ends July 1.

United Airlines, in contrast, has been happy to sell a ticket for any seat on any flight and fill all the middles throughout the COVID crisis. Starting July 1 even more of those middle seats will be filled.

United will waive change fees for travelers who don’t want to fly on a full flight. They committed to contact travelers a day ahead of time to let them know that their flight will be close to full, to let them make other arrangements if they prefer.

United claims people don’t care. Airline CEO Scott Kirby reported that only 1% of people took them up on the offer to switch. However,

  • That doesn’t mean only 1% of people care much about having someone in the seat next to them.

  • They’ve already made their travel plans, paid for their tickets, and United doesn’t have nearly as many flights as they did in the past – changing plans isn’t as easy as catching another flight a few hours later.

  • Dropping plans to travel on a full flight may mean scrapping travel altogether and accepting United scrip for future use instead.

In other words the 1% uptake rate shows United has been leaving passengers between a rock and a hard place.

One limitation United has imposed though is on non-revenue travelers. In order to deliver on their commitment to give customers advance notice, and flexibility in changes, they haven’t been clearing nonrev (employee and relative) passengers onto flights when doing so would bump the flight over 70% capacity. So while United would sell tickets for every seat on every flight, they wouldn’t let free travelers stand by to travel on flights that were more than 70% full.

Employees were informed on Thursday, however, that this cap on non-rev travel will end July 1. As JonNYC reports:

How United will continue to honor a commitment to let customers know in advance when they’re going to be stuck on a full flight with someone squeezed next to them in a middle seat, when they’ll be clearing nonrevs onto flights and taking those middle seats is unclear. The airline tells me, “our current practice includes NRSA listings in the calculation that triggers the notification. We’ll continue to monitor the process as we move through the summer months. “

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. This week we flew UA SMF-DEN-COS roundtrip to visit my dying father-in-law. If he didn’t have months to live, we would not be traveling. Outbound flights were fairly full but most middle seats empty. The return was very full with more middle seats taken including the one in between my husband and I on the DEN-SMF flight. We convinced the gate agent to move the person which turned out to be a minor (she got moved closer to her family and had an empty middle seat). We were given the option to change flights but with reduced schedules that is not an option. We would have to stay an extra night at our own cost, missing another day of work because there were no other flights to change to that day. Saying no one cares is bullshit. We care but there isn’t always another option. We did notice a big difference between flying this week and about a month ago- way more people in their 20’s and families flying now. BTW, UA also processed all F upgrades and filled the F cabin but didn’t shuffle people out of middle seats into the empty seats left by the upgrades. Their were actually a few empty rows after the upgrades cleared but people still stuck in middle seats.

  2. Yea they dont care when they book the flight(cheap tixs) but then go onbaord and bitch and complain to the flight attendants about the flight being full…..NEWSFLASH, you are JUST as much an inconvenience to others as you think of them being on the SAME PLANE . You dont want to be around other potentially infected ppl, then fly private.

  3. Yea they dont care when they book the flight(cheap tixs) but then go onbaord and bitch and complain to the flight attendants about the flight being full…..NEWSFLASH, you are JUST as much an inconvenience to others as you think of them being on the SAME PLANE . You dont want to be around other potentially infected ppl, then fly private.

  4. If a passenger is wants a open middle seat buy a second seat, charter a flight or don’t fly!

  5. Many NRSA passengers have a bad habit of listing themselves 2 hrs prior to departure. By then, regular revenue passengers will already be at the terminal and won’t have much wiggle room to make alternate plans to travel on a later date. It’s just a poorly conceived policy.

    At least DL will adhere to empty middle seats. NRSA passengers do not often clear onto the plane. Most of their FAs will take the jumpseat to hedge their bets.

    Shame on UA for prioritizing profits over people!

  6. You people are crazy, if you want the seat next to you empty, then purchase the seat. UA will sell the seats with paid customers, revenue standby and non-revenue in that order. Many customer purchase extra seats because they are obese or they want the extra space even before Corona Virus. Airlines are in business to make money, its not for charity. With the limited flights with all airlines cutting flights and service, for the ones that don’t want to travel there is always someone else that does. Another option is to charter a plane or drive.

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