Traveling Mamas don’t seem to “get” Economy Plus

This past weekend MountainMama of the TravelingMamas wrote a post entitled “United’s Economy Plus Policy Stinks.” While I’m no United apologist, I think United is being done injustice here, so I’d like to disagree. I’d suggest reading her post, as I’d like to hear if I’m the only one that feels she’s off base.

Let’s talk about what she posted.

I asked a flight attendant if I could move up to one of TWO empty exit rows or one of the THREE totally empty rows 12, 13 and 14 on the aft side of the plane. Nope, couldn’t do it, “Those rows are reserved for people who paid for the upgrade. You’re welcome to purchase an upgrade now if you like.”

Since when did Economy Plus become First Class??

A product doesn’t have to be first class in order for the airline to upsell you. Virgin America offers Main Cabin Select with special service, and that’s not first class. The point is that United made a business decision by adding Economy Plus, and they had to take out six seats in order to accomplish that. They can only justify it if they get some revenue from it, which is one of the aspects of their business they’ve been doing a great job at (if nothing else). They’re making tens of millions of dollars from Economy Plus upsells, so some people seem to be paying for it. Also, remember how American had More Room Throughout Coach? There’s a reason it failed….

The only reason I couldn’t have the extra bit of legroom is because others’ paid for it. Um, so what.

Sorry, but that’s kind of how it works. Besides, where do you draw the line? Is it ok to upgrade oneself to a premium economy product? What about business class? Why not first class? I mean, the plane is catered anyway, so what’s the real cost of the airline to upgrading you?

The answer is simple — if you get it for free this time, you won’t want to pay for it next time. By looking at the seatmap you can tell how full a flight is, so why would you ever need to “confirm” Economy Plus in advance when you know it’s going to be empty and you can get an upgrade for free?

It’s not like I’m displacing the other Economy Plus passengers

In this case you’re right, but where do you draw the line? One of the things I enjoy about Economy Plus is that it’s typically not as full as economy, which means the chances of an empty middle seat are greater. If you take an Economy Plus seat next to someone else, aren’t you making their experience less pleasant? While they didn’t pay to have an empty seat next to them, they paid to sit in a zone which is more likely to have empty seats.

like the passengers being served a hot lunch in First Class.

And what’s the real difference even then? Like I said, United typically caters for a full first class cabin, even when it’s not full. You’re not preventing any other first class passenger from getting a meal, so why can’t you just upgrade yourself to first class? In this case I’m honestly not seeing a difference between upgrading oneself to Economy Plus or first class.

My guess is all those people who forked over the money to reserve an Economy Plus seat have been furious and complained when Economy passengers have scooted up front for free.

Can you blame them? If someone pays $99 at check-in to upgrade to Economy Plus (on a longer flight) and on the plane people sneak up and “steal” the seats without paying a dime, wouldn’t you be angry too? It’s one thing if it’s for operational reasons (in which case there are sometimes operational upgrades to business or first class), but I’d be angry if I paid for something and someone snuck up and “stole” the product I just paid for.

They’ll take every dollar they can get.

And after losing $1.3 billion dollars last quarter, can you blame them?

It comes down to a bunch of whiners.

No disagreement there. 😉

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

More articles by lucky »

Comments

  1. Yikes! It’s almost like she just doesn’t understand how things work in America. Perhaps she was born behind the Iron Curtain or something … 😉

  2. actually UA’s policy is very weird. If they have more non-E+ passengers than number of non-E+ seats, then those who check in late (or didn’t pre-reserve a seat) will get the E+. Ditto for those who are on stand-by.

    Since when did late check-in become a positive trait worth encouraging and rewarding ?

  3. Shocking!

    I don’t think it’s anything to do with “being born behind the iron curtain” — it’s a sign of how our society demands free, free, free… Clearly the author of that post isn’t alone (you see poachers on UA flights every day).

    On the bright side, that’s one blog I won’t be adding to my RSS reader…

  4. JK, I’d guess they really don’t have an alternative unless they wanted to seel E+ like a separate class (Premium Economy). I am sure other airlines that sell “choice seat upgrades” have the same issue. And it’s minor, IMO.

  5. Not sure why this is hard to understand from a business perspective. UA is trying to maximize the amount of $ they get for E+.

    What is worth more: getting to sit in E+ rather than E-, or upgrading an X% chance of sitting in E+ to 100%?

    Seems pretty clear to me that the E+ seat is worth more if paying the fee is the only way you can get it. No matter how risk-averse someone is, as long as the chances of getting E+ for free are non-zero it seems obvious that the E+ upgrade is worth less than if the free upgrade chance is zero.

    Now, whether the self-upgrading devalues E+ enough that it would really affect revenue is an argument one could have, I suppose. But it seems like UA is in the best position to make that decision, and they have clearly decided that it would.

    So even if you throw out the fairness issue, seems like it makes sense.

  6. Just another case of someone wanting something for nothing. I paid $300 for E+ access a couple years ago. If you want it, lady, PAY UP.

  7. Thanks for the link and all the extra eyeballs to TravelingMamas.com! Appreciate the traffic. 🙂

    Enjoy it Kara as we will not be back

  8. I’m loving the responses both here and over there. 😀

    Some of the first few responses are pretty entertaining, in my opinion, and shows just how clueless some people are:

    “Why not up all prices and give EVERYONE enough legroom?”
    I’d ask American Airlines about that, I’m sure they can give you a few reasons. 😉

    “Letting you move up wouldn’t have cost them a cent and earned the kind of word-of-mouth they spend million on with ads.”
    Yes, word-of-mouth about upgrading to Economy Plus for free is exactly the kind of advertising United wants.

    “The flight attendants are unfailingly nice, everyone is treated equally, and they have the new program for those who want to board first (and pay a little extra) so those long-limbed people can pick an exit row seat.”
    I totally agree with the first part (about everyone being treated equal), but doesn’t that kind of contradict “a new program for those who want to board first (and pay a little extra)?”

    OK, that’s all I have for now…..

    I’m having some good laughs from this. Thanks for making this even more entertaining, folks. 😀

  9. Yet another case of “I flew United, and I didn’t like it”. Shocker.

    But the real question is, what on earth were you doing reading this garbage Lucky? It’s hardly cutting edge travel news.

  10. UA should equip F/As with credit card machines to upsell E+ to people in E-. E+ would not exist unless people paid for it (either in loyalty to UA or in extra $).

  11. The answer is actually pretty innocent, 21H21J. Every once in a while I listen to the Airplane Geeks Podcast (airplanegeeks.com), and they were the guests this past week. I checked out their website, and the rest is history.

    The scary part? Guess who got nominated for the 2009 bloggies in the travel category….. you guessed it!
    http://2009.bloggies.com/

  12. Interesting that the first 9 of 10 responses to her post agreed with her. (I stopped reading at 10!) Makes me wonder who her audience is — obviously, a bit different than Lucky’s — probably for good reason!

    I guess she’ll be heading back to SWA, where everyone is an equal — an equal in the back!

  13. Hah, thanks hobo13! I encourage you to read the other responses to her blog post (especially 18-25), as they get downright funny. 😀

  14. I am totally with you Lucky. One of the main reasons that I stay loyal to United (I am a 1P) is because United chooses to value and reward my loyalty with Economy Plus. If Economy Plus was available to every Joe Schmo for free, what would the point in my loyalty be? Certainly not the discounted, raised RCC fees 😉

    Furthermore, even if a whole row of seats was empty, that is not the point. The flights I (and I am sure many others) enjoy the most are those where I have a whole row to myself, or nobody behind me and the ability for “guilt-free” recline. Now, if people pay for E+ and wind up sitting behind or next to me, though not happy about it, I accept that they have just as much of a right to be there as I. If a weak FA gives into a pushy customer such as the OP, that only serves to anger me, the loyal frequent flyer, somebody of greater value (not to sound cocky at all here) than the 1-time, Joe Schmoo flier in the back, who was too cheap to pay the extra $18.00 for more leg-room. You get what you pay for.

  15. She is a traveling mom and wants to move to the exit row? Does not one have to be a certain age to sit in the exit row?

  16. All I can do is shake my head and laugh at the nitwits over on that board. Wow. They want something for nothing, no surprise..But their attempts at justification really make me wonder what kind of kids they’re raising.

  17. These traveling mamas make me sick. Travelingmamas, please go back to Southwest airlines with your 32 carryons and oversized “luggage” that waddles down the aisles. Just cease to travel.

    Thank you.

  18. These “Travelling Mamas” are probably the same kind of people that sit around at home all day and look for free samples of dish detergent on the internet, then send some urban legends to all 1500 people in their AOL address book.

    I bet the closest they’ve ever come to travelling on a regular basis is their yearly trip to the cross-stitching comvention in Omaha. If they actually left their houses, they’d understand that this is the same as buying upper level seats to a hockey game and then demanding to sit against the glass, or ordering a cheese pizza and throwing a fit because they threw out the pepperoni instead of putting it on your pie.

    Go fly another airline, we don’t want you on our friendly skies anyway.

  19. Whoa … I think that was way too harsh.

    As someone said earlier, everyone I talk with who has no status on United, HATES flying United.

    But, the difference is that travelling mommas and their ilk will complain, but if United’s price is $5 less, they’ll go with them. That’s why UA doesn’t really care about giving them E+ … their loyalty is based totally on price.

  20. Geez, I’m really shocked by the level of hatred of some of the comments here. There’s similar vitriol over near the end of the comments section on the travelingmamas article now as well.

    I strongly disagree with the writer, and think that she is being quite naive about the way that airlines operate. I also think that it was a foolish article to post – a long, long time ago, soon after E+ was installed, I was a much less frequent flier, and didn’t have any status on UA. I asked a FA if I could move up to an empty row, and was told that it was a special different section. I was *embarrassed* about my lack of knowledge, not proud and angry about it!

    That said, some of the comments here seem to have crossed the line into misogyny. Cracks about the kids they’re raising, “waddling” down the aisle, and cross-stitching conventions are pretty unnecessary. When Chris Elliott publishes something stupid about the airline industry, people attack Chris Elliott, and not middle-aged men: http://xkcd.com/385/

    C’mon, people, let’s indeed fly the friendly skies.

  21. We flew to FRA last weekend on a reconfigurated 747 (in biz) and during a walk about the plane to loosen up my legs, I noticed whole empty center rows in e-plus, with people stretched out sleeping, relatively comfortably. Not a bad perk for passengers with enough status to earn e-plus, but who didn’t manage to get an upgrade.

    Back in the days before I learned the upgrade ropes, my favorite trick used to be to sit at the very back of the plane in an empty row, in hopes of snagging a whole row so I could sleep. If someone came along who had one of the seats, I would just humbly apologize for my mistake and move to another empty row. It usually worked out so that I could lie down and sleep all the way.

    This same trick would work just as well in the back of the plane as it does in e-plus, as long as the loads are light. I imagine, however, it would be very uncomfortable all the way in the back if the plane were fully loaded. I am too old and spoiled now to test that theory. ;–)

  22. Wow. Some of you people are just downright rude and harsh. You didn’t even read the entire blog post on TravelingMamas.com, you just go with the comments the author over here posted, some of which were taken out of context.

    So you don’t agree with someone’s opinion. Big whoop. I’m one of the Traveling Mamas and I don’t even fly United. Sometimes you have to endure the carriers that offer the best price, and as MOTHERS (you all have one) we do have to purchase tickets sometimes even if they are the cheapest. Five dollars is five dollars.

    Now MountainMama (Kara) is a tall lady, and many times she HAS purchased the upgrade to E+. So don’t go acting like she’s some type of freeloader. You all know if you would’ve been in the same situation, you would feel the same injustice, you just didn’t blog about it.

    Stop being freaking mean people and move along. I would really hate to see how YOUR children are being raised, with parents who are haters. Yes. HATERS.

    I don’t stay at home in the kitchen, I actually work TWO JOBS and for those of you who left comments like that, SHAME ON YOU! Does your wife know you say things like that? Does your mother? Wait, I’ll bet you aren’t even married.

    Do you know what I teach MY children? No, you don’t, and HOW DARE YOU bring any children into this. You are in the Koolaid and don’t even know what the flavor is by leaving some of these comments on ONE post and not reading anything else on our blog. MountainMama (Kara) has not ever worked for SWA. That would be DesertMama (Beth) and if you actually listed to the entire podcast over at AirlineGeeks, then you would know this.

  23. Shannon,

    First of all, I agree that some comments here are harsh. In order to give everyone the chance to state their views, I don’t moderate comments, other than ones that really give me a reason to, like porn links, death threats, etc. If I were to moderate comments, your post wouldn’t have been approved, since you’re making rude, blanket statements just like some others have done above. I’d love to hear what you’re inferring by saying that most of us aren’t married, while at the same time saying that we’re mean.

    I’m pretty sure most people that commented here read the full post by Kara, and I’m not sure what would make you assume otherwise.

    We would feel the same “injustice,” you think? Sorry, but I don’t see any injustice here (referring to Kara’s experience on United), and I don’t think anyone else does either. I guess it comes down to the different readership we have. My blog is very much focused on miles and points, so you’ll find that many of the people that read my blog are very frequent flyers, and know the drill. We know what we’re entitled to, and we don’t expect a lot more. It seems like Kara and most of your readers have a different approach, and I respect that. I’m still entitled to my opinion, and that’s all that I was expressing.

    Anyway, I’m sorry you were offended, but at the same time I ask that you not confuse a couple of rude comments here with the views of most. I think most people did a good job of respectfully disagreeing, and I’m sorry you don’t seem to see that.

    Back to your regularly scheduled programming….

  24. As I noted in the comments section on my original post, all of the folks who disagreed with me prior to your taking my post out of context here did so wonderfully politely way. They offered “their side of the story” with class and decorum.

    The nasty posts that came after you posted my blog post out of context came from your readers who came close to slinging some slanderous comments. (I did delete the comments on my site that suggested I stay in the bedroom and the kitchen – whoa, where did that come from? That’s downright sexism – how embarrassing for the commenter.)

    The Mamas are blessed with wonderful supporters and readers who leave comments – whether they agree with me or not – that are educated and thoughtful. There are ways to point out that perhaps I misunderstood E+ in a way that didn’t have to be so rude. (Though I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten an E+ seat without paying the upgrade; I guess I just lucked out by being one of the “late check in” folks? Maybe I smiled nicely at the ticket agent? I don’t know… I guess I’ll appreciate the unasked-for-upgrades even more now, when that happens. Please note though, as I stated in my post — which you didn’t excerpt — I’ve happily forked over the fee before on cross-country and cross-Pacific flights.)

    Frankly, I can’t believe the vitriol on this site. I feel bad for you, Mr./Ms. One Mile at a Time, to have such mean and angry, caustic readers!

    But again, appreciate the traffic! Now I’ll go back to my cross-stitching (?!) and looking for dish-detergent samples (?!). Really, that comment above from MB was pretty funny, if not ludicrous and sexist.

  25. OK, this is the last thing I’ll say on the subject — I see exactly TWO posts here which I would consider rude/offensive. That hardly represents my readership.

    It seems to me like there’s quite a double standard here. First I’m accused by Shannon of only coming to your site and reading one post (without getting a real flavor of the site, which couldn’t be further from the truth), and then Kara calls me Ms./Mr. A quick look at my about page would reveal my gender.

    ‘Nuff said.

  26. Take a peek at our comment page, lucky, and you’ll see the meanness that I highly believe came from your site (given our stats showing how many have been referred from here). Like I said, prior to your pingback, comments were civil!

  27. Actually, lucky, I think that there are 3 comments, right in a row, that can be construed as pretty offensive (including from someone with whom I have previously interacted, and is therefore all the more disappointing). Likewise, I was following the comments section on the travelingmamas blog for a while, and people posted some pretty hateful things on there (those comments now appear to have been removed).

    THAT SAID…I think that the attacks on lucky and his readership from Shannon and Kara are really hypocritical. If you are upset about someone posting personal and sexist remarks, the best defense is probably not to do it right back. In addition to the mean, childish remarks, onemileatatime readers also presented reasoned rebuttals on the travelingmama’s blog (I like to think that I did so as well, albeit under a different username). Yes, there are bloviating idiots who read this blog, but that’s the nature of the internet. There are also many, many more sophisticated, polite people, and decently-sized female readership, too. I’m a woman, so is Punki, and probably a number of others who also have gender-neutral usernames.

    So lay off of lucky! He’s a nice, polite young man, with a wealth of hard-earned travel experience from which many people benefit. Whenever I have disagreed with him in the past, he has always courteously acknowledged my point of view, and we have ended up with a nice discussion. The same thing could have happened here, if the ‘mama’s had kept their temper.

  28. We are all entitled to our opinions, and while I may or may not agree with Kara on United’s E+ policy experience, I just want to say that yesterday when my Continental flight was delayed, United stepped up to the plate to get me on my way back to the States. The plane was virtually empty (like in Kara’s case) and a tall man asked if he could move to E+ because he was a bit taller than the rest of us. The flight attendant DID allow him to move to E+, even though he didn’t pay for the upgrade.

    Whether we agree to disagree or not, apparently the E+ policy upgrade only applies to certain people.

    As far as keeping a temper, sure, maybe I shouldn’t have made a comment at all in Kara’s defense, but when you bring a mama’s child into a conversation (be it the author or his/her readers), all bets are off.

    Thanks for sending all the new traffic our way. It is much appreciated 🙂

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