United Is Introducing New Amenities In Transcon Business Class & Economy Plus

As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, rumor had it that United was going to revamp their premium transcontinental routes between Newark and Los Angeles/San Francisco. On top of that, United was apparently going to expand this service to their route between Boston and Los Angeles.

Well, it looks like we now have some more official details on this. As of July 1, 2017, United will be making Boston to San Francisco a premium transcontinental route, and will be adding amenities in business class as well as Economy Plus on these three routes. Here are the details:

United’s new transcon business class amenities

In addition to the amenities United currently offers in these markets, they’re adding the following:

  • A feature Moscow Mule cocktail by Crafthouse Cocktails
  • Desserts inspired by the United Polaris menu
  • Pre-arrival hot towel service
  • Pre-arrival snacks, including things like Boulder Canyon potato chips and Madik’s almonds

This is in addition to the amenities currently offers, like Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, premium meals, etc.

Really this is just a lot of marketing. I mean, seriously, when an airline advertises an additional hot towel during a flight as a premium cabin enhancement, they’re really grasping at straws. Also, when I heard they were offering pre-arrival snacks I was thinking things like a cheese or veggie plate, and not chips and almonds, which most airlines already offer on all transcons in a snack basket.

The more significant improvements will be in Economy Plus, though.

United is adding free hot meals and booze in Economy Plus

Starting July 1, 2017, United will introduce free hot meals and alcoholic beverages in Economy Plus on their three premium transcontinental routes. Here’s how this is described:

Beginning on flights in July, this will feature industry-leading meal service, including a complimentary hot fresh entrée, dessert and fruit, a pre-arrival snack and alcoholic beverages. Sample menu selections include savory roasted chicken with a smoked barbecue sauce and butternut squash tortellini with sage cream sauce. Dessert options will include New York’s favorite sweet treat, cheesecake, as well as a chocolate brownie and fresh seasonal fruit.

“Customers traveling in Economy Plus will receive the industry’s best economy cabin dining experience,” noted Krolick. “Flying between Boston or the New York area and the west coast can be akin to flying from the east coast to Europe, and we want to provide a satisfying and unparalleled meal in our Economy cabin. This enhancement to Economy Plus is our first step toward a premium Economy offering for our customers.”

Delta and American have recently introduced free meals on select transcon flights to all economy passengers, though this doesn’t include hot meals. Interestingly United is introducing a better meal service and free alcohol, but only in Economy Plus.

Boston to San Francisco is going premium

As noted above, starting this summer all United flights between Boston and San Francisco will feature this new premium service, including flat beds in business class, free hot meals in Economy Plus, etc. While United’s enhanced service out of Newark extends to Los Angeles, the service out of Boston is exclusively to San Francisco — Boston to Los Angeles won’t be a premium route for these purposes.

However, keep in mind this means that United elite members will no longer receive complimentary upgrades to business class on this route. While they receive complimentary upgrades on domestic flights, these premium routes are excluded.

Could United cut free Economy Plus for elites on premium routes?

United is adding free hot meals and alcoholic beverages in Economy Plus on these routes. While I’m not sure this impact will be immediate, I highly suspect that United will be cutting (or at least limiting) free Economy Plus access for elites on these routes. In the same way they’ve cut upgrades to first class on premium transcontinental routes, I suspect they’ll do the same here, or at least limit it substantially.

We’re talking about US airlines here, and they almost never give anything without also taking.

In the press release, United’s VP of Marketing of quoting as saying the following, which is pretty telling in terms of how they’re viewing this enhancement:

“Customers traveling in Economy Plus will receive the industry’s best economy cabin dining experience,” noted Krolick. “Flying between Boston or the New York area and the west coast can be akin to flying from the east coast to Europe, and we want to provide a satisfying and unparalleled meal in our Economy cabin. This enhancement to Economy Plus is our first step toward a premium Economy offering for our customers.”

Bottom line

On the surface these seem like positive improvements, though I have mixed feelings:

  • The business class improvements seem incredibly minor — how excited can you get about an extra warm towel and almonds?
  • Boston to San Francisco becoming a premium route is great for those paying for business class, but bad for those looking to upgrade
  • On the surface free meals and alcoholic drinks in Economy Plus seem like a positive improvement, though I suspect that United has the intention of cutting or reducing Economy Plus upgrades as a result of this

What do you make of these changes? Do you think United will eventually cut free Economy Plus access for elites as part of these changes?

Comments

  1. While I like the changes to Econ Plus, this is the beginning of the end of free upgrades to E+. No way they keep it going. Also frees up people from being able to upgrade from regular economy to first class.
    While it’s a nice feature, it’s just cutting elite benefits for the future. Which is fine now that I cut my elite ties with them.

  2. this should’ve been the perfect opportunity to include LAX-BOS in that list, even at 2x daily.

  3. You guys really hate United with a passion. Criticism even when they do something nice for coming passengers.

    There is no basis for speculating that they will exclude elite upgrades to economy plus. Delta has long offered free booze and food in comfort plus, which is still available to elites. Free food and wine is not that expensive — and they have a huge number of economy plus seats on each plane. Transcons are almost always sold out, so they would have to op-up a bunch of elites anyway. I don’t think their goal is to literally provide no benefits to elites, since they do get a lot of people to book with them through elite benefits.

  4. As a longtime UA 1K I have always felt that the free upgrade program is one of the worst things that has happened to the domestic carriers…When UA started it, I said to all of my business partners who flew UA, “watch, the service/amenity cuts are going to come right along with this”…That is exactly what happened…Now those same business partners say, “well, we would never use miles or pay for an upgrade, look how bad the service is”…

    Free upgrade = less service/amenities…Enhanced service = no free upgrade…Free upgrade = less service/amenities…Enhanced service = no free upgrade…

    Does anyone else realize the pattern here…??? It’s not rocket science…

  5. @ John – you do know that for Delta, only Diamond and Platinum can into Comfort+ right away right ? Gold you have to wait til 72 hours to departure and silver you have to wait til 24 hours to departure. Currently UA 1K, platinum and gold can get E+ immediately at booking, so how is that the same to compare ?

  6. Lucky, for every comment you receive asking about your Residence Review, I would wait an additional day.

  7. Unlike Delta, which has had this premium service for about five years, United didn’t announce its new premium service alongside any retrofitting, renovation or new aircraft. To me, that’s notable. This is basically lipstick on a pig. It isn’t even Polaris. It’s at best Polaris-inspired. By contrast, Delta’s flagship Delta One business-class from JFK-LAX is basically the same product–hard and soft–as LAX-HND.

  8. The ONLY reason why I still fly United is the access to E+. If that is taken away I’m out. I don’t care about free meals.

  9. @ ORDnHKG — Based on your own description, Delta’s economy comfort policy is identical to United’s economy plus policy for every elite tier except gold. That seems like a pretty fair comparison. Indeed the fact that the policies are so close seems to support the view that United is probably going to want its program to essentially match what Delta does (as they have matched so many other Delta moves recently). So if Delta’s serving free alcohol in economy comfort and offering those seats to elite for free, United probably will do the same.

    To the extent your concern is that United golds will be changed from “confirmed at booking” for economy plus to “upgraded at T-72” for economy plus (to exactly match Delta’s policy), that seems like a pretty minor change. United has way more economy plus seats, percentage wise, than Delta does — so even at T-72, golds would be virtually guaranteed to get an economy plus seat, probably even an aisle or window. For that reason, moreover, I wouldn’t expect United to change their policy for golds to match Delta’s. A United exec who I know well explained to me that the only reason United added a rule that silvers can get economy plus only at T-24 was because some higher-tier elites complained that they couldn’t get economy plus seats when they made close-in bookings because all the economy plus seats were gone several days before departure. United has no incentive to make a similar change for gold because there’s more than enough economy plus seats for golds and all higher elites to get them — which is different than Delta, which has way fewer comfort plus seats. As it is United’s E- seats are often sold out well before departure while tons of E+ seats are unsold, so United regularly has to op-up non-elites to E+ at the gate. If they have to give away E+ seats for free they’d much prefer to give those out to a gold member as a perk that doesn’t cost them much, rather than give them out to a general member for nothing.

    The changes United is making to the soft product won’t result in any change to the percentage of economy plus seats, so there’s no reason to imagine that those changes would change United’s policy of elite upgrades. If anything transcon routes are among the most sold out, where E- is often gone and they have to do op-ups at the gate a lot. It makes no sense to change the policy so that general members would get a bunch of op-ups in those routes rather than giving those seats to elites.

    That’s why I think Lucky’s idle speculation in this post reflects an anti-United bias. Yes, they’ve had their share of problems — but there’s really no basis to leap to the conclusion that every small improvement must be part of some elaborate scheme to screw over their elites later. They are a profit-maximizing business so they may make changes when they need to do so to maximize shareholder returns — but they don’t have any reason to torture heir elites just for the fun of it (quite the contrary).

  10. I literally laughed out loud when then said it would be ” akin to flying from the east coast to Europe,”

  11. As a former Northwest employee I remember a time when coach class was all coach no such thing as premium economy. These airlines today are garbage and have poor services with little leg room and hardly any decline with seats. TWA had the best Transcontinental service too with hot food for EVERYONE in board. Sad state of times in Airline life today IMO.

  12. @Eric: The reality, however, is flying is no longer a big deal for most people. It’s a commodity that takes you from Point A to Point C generally via Point B. Flights are shorter. There’s less need for enhanced service and enhanced meals to keep passengers occupied because passengers mostly now have access to internet, movies, TV and radio while in-flight. I agree that seats are worse, planes are more crowded, and service is somewhat worse on most domestic flights but I don’t necessarily think a hot meal for the sake of a hot meal is actually an enhancement, especially if the food is crappy. What irks me, however, is not giving customers a choice to pre-order a hot meal if they want one. Air Berlin does this well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *