Can United Airlines Become Premium?

Can United Airlines Become Premium?

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Among the “big three” carriers in the United States, I tend to think that historically American and United are in one league, while Delta is in another league. However, there’s no arguing that United is making a lot of positive changes. Could we see United become more of a competitor to Delta when it comes to passenger experience? Could United become the most premium airline in the United States?

United is doing all of the right things

United Airlines is becoming a fantastically well rounded airline, and so many of the changes that we’ve seen in recent years, months, and weeks, have been positive:

United’s impressive 767 business class

In many ways United is already overtaking Delta:

  • Delta’s international business class hard product is underwhelming and inconsistent, especially with the number of 767s that Delta flies, which feature an inferior business class seat
  • United has international premium cabin lounges, while Delta doesn’t
  • While Delta does a great job configuring its old planes with new cabins, United will have the advantage of having new planes with cutting edge technology (for example, United will allow bluetooth connections to inflight entertainment)
Delta’s inferior 767 business class

In fairness, it’s worth acknowledging that it will take United years to get to the point where all planes feature this swanky new technology, and in the meantime the experience won’t be anything like that for most customers. That’s always the challenge with airlines announcing lofty goals — fleets can’t be updated overnight.

United’s sleek new domestic interiors

Can United compete with Delta’s service culture?

The things that United is investing in are totally worthwhile, but to me there’s one thing preventing United from being in Delta’s league — that’s the general culture at the airline, including the employees. Individually United has some great employees, just as American does. But I believe these employees are great because they’re good people who choose to live their lives in a positive way, rather than because of anything that United instills in them.

What United doesn’t have is the consistent customer focus you’ll find at Delta. Are all Delta employees amazing? No, of course not. But when you fly Delta there’s a general sense among employees that they appreciate and value their customers, much more so than you’ll find on American and United. I find this to be the case at every step of the journey, from check-in, to lounges, to inflight.

Delta’s service is always just a little bit better on average

How has Delta historically been able to accomplish this? I’d guess it comes down to several factors:

  • Delta has historically had the most employee profit sharing among airlines in the United States, and as a result employees are invested in the success of the airline
  • Delta has historically had better labor relations than American and United; for example, Delta flight attendants choose not to be unionized, so employees are largely on the same page with management
  • Delta has long invested in its passenger experience across the board, and that has given employees a sense of pride in their company and the product they can offer
  • Perhaps to draw a coronavirus comparison, Delta employees have “herd immunity” when it comes to having good attitudes; when new employees start they quickly see that the expectation is to take care of customers, rather than just doing whatever they want
  • In general I’d say Delta’s management team has had more consistent messaging and leadership — the airline had Richard Anderson as CEO from 2007 until 2016, and then Ed Bastian took over, who previously served as president; compare that to United, which has gone from Glenn Tilton, to Jeff Smisek, to Oscar Munoz, to Scott Kirby, and they’ve all had totally different management styles, some completely toxic (especially the first two)

While nice cabins and lots of premium seats are nice, will United ever be able to compete with Delta on service? A couple of things come to mind:

  • I do think United investing in its product will give employees a sense of pride in the product, and that should have some positive impacts on service
  • I’ve been impressed by Scott Kirby’s tenure at United so far; in the past he has always come across as someone buried deep in a spreadsheet somewhere, while nowadays he comes across as a lot more human, and I think that’s something employees appreciate

But even with those positive factors, a corporate culture doesn’t change overnight. Can United actually go through a renaissance, whereby employees at United consistently become customer-focused, rather than just when they feel like it? If United found a way to do this, it would be a force to be reckoned with. But it’s also no small task…

Coincidentally I’m writing this from a United flight in Economy Plus (my American flight was delayed by hours and I had to rebook). The 737 is fairly nice and has TVs at every seat, but even so it hasn’t been a great experience. I think this is representative of the typical United experience:

  • At the Premier Access check-in counter (I’m Star Alliance Gold) two employees were having a conversation and didn’t offer to help, even though they saw us
  • I thanked the gate agent as I boarded the aircraft, and she said nothing
  • Wi-Fi was broken for the first half of the flight
  • I went to the bathroom after takeoff, and when I returned, the flight attendant and cart were one row behind my seat; rather than moving the cart a few feet, the flight attendant “shooed” me to the back of the plane with a hand motion, and I had to wait there until he was done with service (I’d be fine with that if he politely asked me to wait, and/or said “thanks for your patience,” but the attitude rubbed me the wrong way)
TVs are nice, good service is nicer

Bottom line

United Airlines is making some improvements that customers will love — the airline has spent the past few years improving its premium cabin international experience, and now the airline is focused on improving the experience for everyone else. This includes ordering new planes, and most importantly, installing a product that people will enjoy.

With the direction United is headed, the carrier is definitely getting more in Delta’s league, and leaving American behind. The big question is whether United can catch up with Delta’s culture. TVs and mood lighting are nice, but friendly employees who seem like they enjoy their jobs and value their customers are even nicer.

What do you think — can United improve service to the point that it can actually compete with Delta from a passenger experience standpoint, or is what we’re seeing now the extent of it?

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  1. Bobby

    I achieved United Global Services status in 2018 after spending $45K on United in 2017. For many years before and every year since 2018 I have easily achieved 1K status. This year will be my first year never flying United which is sad because I love United. United completely threw those of us who live outside the US under the bus. Prior to 2019 the spending requirement was waived for those of us who were...

    I achieved United Global Services status in 2018 after spending $45K on United in 2017. For many years before and every year since 2018 I have easily achieved 1K status. This year will be my first year never flying United which is sad because I love United. United completely threw those of us who live outside the US under the bus. Prior to 2019 the spending requirement was waived for those of us who were loyal to Star Alliance but couldn’t fly United because we live outside the US. In 2019 that came to a crashing halt. Now I’m required to spend over $30k on partner airlines just to get 1K status on United. Not worth it. Since then I’ve concentrated my travel on Delta (who has retained the waiver for those outside the US) and even AA who never had the waiver. United is not ever going to be a truly global airline because it simply doesn’t make sense for international executives who lived outside the US to fly them. Delta not only has a great product (embarrassing 767’s notwithstanding) but it actually respects international travelers. 2022 will see me with EP status on AA and Diamond on Delta. I will take multiple connections to avoid United until they start respecting US expats again. Not holding my breath.

  2. Mal Williams

    Premium?!! This article must have been written pre-covid. My upcoming non-stop flight got cancelled. UAL re-booked us on a later non-stop flight, but we won’t arrive in time for a family event. We can get an earlier flight with 1 stop, but the same class fare isn’t available, and We already paid for extra leg room. UAL hasn’t offered a refund, only credit. However, this flight was booked with travel credit from a cancelled international...

    Premium?!! This article must have been written pre-covid. My upcoming non-stop flight got cancelled. UAL re-booked us on a later non-stop flight, but we won’t arrive in time for a family event. We can get an earlier flight with 1 stop, but the same class fare isn’t available, and We already paid for extra leg room. UAL hasn’t offered a refund, only credit. However, this flight was booked with travel credit from a cancelled international flight from a year ago! What do you have to do to get a cash refund? If this is UAL premium, I’ll stick with Delta! For the record, my last flight was domestic first class on United. Also credited from the international cancelled flight!

  3. Kurt Quinton

    The way to tell
    Ua's service to understand the difference between UA and CO staff. The old CO staff are still the best in the industry,

  4. Miramar

    That's a good one. What a wretched airline.

  5. Scott A. Thorson

    Insightful, factual and well written. You are right on the money, Lucky!

  6. Pam

    You guys that posted here about the failures of United that sound very legitimate need to all send a paper letter outlining exactly what happened as you did here with the date, flight number, and any names you might have noted straight to the big guy sitting in the United Airlines President’s office chair. Skip customer service and go straight to the top. I did about an absolutely ridiculous incident from SFO to Singapore and...

    You guys that posted here about the failures of United that sound very legitimate need to all send a paper letter outlining exactly what happened as you did here with the date, flight number, and any names you might have noted straight to the big guy sitting in the United Airlines President’s office chair. Skip customer service and go straight to the top. I did about an absolutely ridiculous incident from SFO to Singapore and as long as you are professional in your letter you will get a response.

  7. Milo

    Bluetooth connectivity? Have fun pairing your headphone when 100+ people are trying to do the same.

  8. Anthony Joseph

    So, all in all, you are talking about the absorbing degradation of airline product and service at the big three US carriers.
    The biggest reform in service is to:
    1. Invest in employees and not drive higher level positions with seniority but rather performance
    2. REFORM FLIGHT ATTENDANT CONTRACTS: Limit the number of long haul flights senior FAs can work per month, have more rigorous re-cert on ability to perform emergency duties...

    So, all in all, you are talking about the absorbing degradation of airline product and service at the big three US carriers.
    The biggest reform in service is to:
    1. Invest in employees and not drive higher level positions with seniority but rather performance
    2. REFORM FLIGHT ATTENDANT CONTRACTS: Limit the number of long haul flights senior FAs can work per month, have more rigorous re-cert on ability to perform emergency duties for long haul flights, accountability on level of service provided on flights. THIS IS THE BIGGEST REASON I HAVE NOT FLOWN US CARRIERS ON INTL FLIGHTS THE PAST 10 YEARS EVEN THOUGH I HAD DELTA MEDALLION STATUS

  9. Brian

    My family of 8 recently flew United from IAD to Tampa to spend a week with the grandparents who had not yet held our youngest due to COVID. Flying with six children can be an experience. To give my family the best possible flight experience and to set the tone for how staff would interact with us and since it made sense after adding up all of the fees and upgrades we would have otherwise...

    My family of 8 recently flew United from IAD to Tampa to spend a week with the grandparents who had not yet held our youngest due to COVID. Flying with six children can be an experience. To give my family the best possible flight experience and to set the tone for how staff would interact with us and since it made sense after adding up all of the fees and upgrades we would have otherwise spent, we flew First Class - 8 seats - including my son under under 2. We did not have high expectations flying domestic, but despite my father in law being a retired Continental captain and our many years of being loyal United customers, our experience was the last straw. Flying down we were delayed a full hour after boarding, having to return to the gate due to an AC malfunction in the cockpit, and my youngest starting crying. From the time we boarded we were not offered so much as a water, crackers for the baby, a blanket, ...nothing. Before we left the gate the first time a stewardess sternly instructed my wife that my under 2 son would have to sit in his seat own for takeoff since he was not a lap baby, implying it was an FAA regulation. I thanked her and told her that would not be the case and she walked forward to consult with her fellow steward and the flight crew. I got up and went forward to participate. My son was under 2 and as such my wife would hold him if she thought that best. That I also bought him a seat did not then force my wife to use it. I also voiced my frustration that this was their first interaction with us and that it used to be that passengers flying with small children would receive special attention from airline staff, not scrutiny and consternation. Flying back the WiFi entertainment system did not work (we tried a Android and iOS devices) for the first 20 minutes of the flight, showing any title selected as unavailable. The stewardess rudely said "I'm not IT" when informed of the situation and they ran out of snack boxes half way through 1st class. I was offered an "Everything Bagel" instead but when I opened it I found some kind of vegetable omlet on a wet, soggy bun-like non-bagel. I sent it back and asked for something else and she said there was nothing else. I asked her to please find something - a bag of peanuts, a cookie, some crackers - anything. She came back ten minutes later with a kids meal I gave to my son. We've decided, never again.

  10. AA

    I'd rather walk than fly united again

  11. Bert

    Re JJH - great comparison of Delta and United! I have been 1K and 1MM for over 10 years and due to the increased requirements for 1K in 2020 I decided to move to KLM (just before the pandemic hit), had some great flights with them but then ended up with a ton of vouchers on both United and KLM (as I book cheap business class long in advance).
    One of the most striking...

    Re JJH - great comparison of Delta and United! I have been 1K and 1MM for over 10 years and due to the increased requirements for 1K in 2020 I decided to move to KLM (just before the pandemic hit), had some great flights with them but then ended up with a ton of vouchers on both United and KLM (as I book cheap business class long in advance).
    One of the most striking differences between the airlines is the total superiority of United's website and app as noted also by JJH above. This became even more clear when rebooking numerous times because of changing entry requirements in USA and Europe, and reclaiming vouchers. Since the new Polaris hard product is now available on most transatlantic flights I have decided to go back to United (despite the huge difference in attitudes of flight attendants on these two airlines, with KLM a clear winner). The convenience of excellent web-based tech for me made the diifference in choice. Hopefully United's service attitudes may also change for the better?

  12. StrictlyFacts

    When I think of a "premium" airline, I consider certain qualities that must be exhibited in both the equipment (hardware) and personnel (services). What I've experienced with United over the past decades has varied somewhat, but I think that they're definitely "on the mend". Sure, I've had encounters with really despicable and rude flight attendants, but I've also had absolutely stellar encounters with other flight attendants, as well. Admittedly, most of my flights had been...

    When I think of a "premium" airline, I consider certain qualities that must be exhibited in both the equipment (hardware) and personnel (services). What I've experienced with United over the past decades has varied somewhat, but I think that they're definitely "on the mend". Sure, I've had encounters with really despicable and rude flight attendants, but I've also had absolutely stellar encounters with other flight attendants, as well. Admittedly, most of my flights had been re-pandemic monthly trans-Pacific on B777-300ERs out of SFO. so Polaris was the standard, and I've noticed some scale backs over the years since Polaris was first introduced, but in general I've found the onboard food, beverages, and services to be quite acceptable. The Polaris Lounge at SFO was exemplary (when open) and compared very favorably even with many of Asia's premium airport lounges.

    My experiences with the ground-based staff at United has been pretty positive, as well. Whenever I call their 1K Desk, I usually get a service agent within less than a minute; and they actually acknowledge (ie, thank) me for my premier status (1K/Million Miler). Last fall, when I flew something like 26 domestic segments within a 2 month period, I almost always got automatically upgraded to 1st class without expending any points to do so. Once, while waiting at a boarding gate, I noticed that they lacked a consistent pre-boarding policy for 1st class passengers (some airports allowed boarding as desired while others made 1st class board *last* due to a row-based boarding order), so I discussed that with a gate agent and, thereafter, I was surprised to see that United actually added a separate announcement for 1st class boarding at all airports!

    My experiences with United has been, very fortunately, generally positive, and I think that they *can* become a "premium" airline, once everything gets back to "normal" again, by continuing to emphasize to their staff about improving customer attitudes and services, their staff's union memberships notwithstanding!

  13. PM1

    I'm a 1K at United and live at a Delta hub. Prefer United for a far better frequent flyer program and ability to upgrade using Plus Points (let's see how long that lasts). I don't have status with Delta but fly them fairly regularly. United employees can be indifferent or even hostile at times compared to Delta employees who are less likely to be so. Singapore & Qatar are the best I've seen so far...

    I'm a 1K at United and live at a Delta hub. Prefer United for a far better frequent flyer program and ability to upgrade using Plus Points (let's see how long that lasts). I don't have status with Delta but fly them fairly regularly. United employees can be indifferent or even hostile at times compared to Delta employees who are less likely to be so. Singapore & Qatar are the best I've seen so far (in premium cabins atleast). My wish for United is to first fix culture before spending all the money on TV screens and fancy interiors.

  14. Endre

    I think, and this is probably true for many larger carriers, their product and service inconsistencies are super annoying.

  15. WP

    I find UA service to be more impressive usually on int'l flights, especially to Asia. Shuttled a lot between SF and Asia pre-pandemic, and the Asian crews on those flights were regularly quite close in terms of service std. to Asian airlines.

  16. Bob Wallas

    Delta’s Flight attendants get threatened regularly when they attempt to unionize. Its a very toxic culture. You have never worked there and make assumptions

  17. Emily

    Can their customer service become like Delta's? Absolutely.

    Can they become premium? No.

    Is Delta premium? No.

    Is Delta far ahead of United? No.

    What about AA? Let them first reach the levels of UA.

  18. Radio

    To be honest, I don't see any substantive differences among American, Delta, and United when I've flown them.

  19. Dave

    What's ironic is that Continental had great workforce. How bad United's workforce shows how having management from Continental won't do anything if United's workforce totally outnumbers Continental's. Even Continental's workforce has diluted because if the bigger workforce dominates, it dominates.

    1. Lune

      I don't know. SFO was a United hub and EWR was a Continental hub. But right now, I get uniformly great service from the counter agents at SFO and absolutely abysmal service at EWR. I'm willing to believe that pre-merger Continental had great service (I never flew them then as I lived in United hub cities), but at this point, I don't see any difference between the two, and if there is, it's the United employees that seem better.

  20. Dan

    Delta customer service is higher because they are not Union and they can’t say anything bad about the company - especially on social media. I’m not saying I’m pro union or anti union but there are benefits to employees being able to say shady things happening freely. American was going to shrink seats even further on newer aircrafts until the flight attendants raised hell about it. While it does make it harder to fire bad...

    Delta customer service is higher because they are not Union and they can’t say anything bad about the company - especially on social media. I’m not saying I’m pro union or anti union but there are benefits to employees being able to say shady things happening freely. American was going to shrink seats even further on newer aircrafts until the flight attendants raised hell about it. While it does make it harder to fire bad employees, pretending everything is okay and and policies are great isn’t good either. I knew a Delta f/a who got pregnant and before she told the company they had sent out a memo completely changing maternity leave rules. This was probably 10 odd some years ago and she ended up quitting because what she thought it was wasn’t going to work with how the new policy was. She and every employee I’ve met who use to work there would say “I’ll never say anything bad about Delta but at the end of the day they always take the customers side” - I don’t know…there just needs to be a medium between no union and crazy union rules.

  21. Matt

    Totally absent from any conversation about "premium" or "customer service" is American Airlines, which has decided that it simply will not compete on product or service. Yet its prices are still more than LCCs and ULCCs. So American charges the prices of a premium, customer service oriented airline, but offers the product and service of an LCC or ULCC. Abysmal.

    1. Tim Dunn

      you nailed it.
      Southwest has hubs/bases in every United hub metro area except NYC and aggressively growing in United hubs including at O'Hare, Houston Bush and Denver. JetBlue is aggressively growing in Newark.
      First and foremost, United is trying to distinguish itself from Southwest or at least better compete with JetBlue on product.
      American IS the casualty because they look more like Southwest with premium prices than Delta or United. American is...

      you nailed it.
      Southwest has hubs/bases in every United hub metro area except NYC and aggressively growing in United hubs including at O'Hare, Houston Bush and Denver. JetBlue is aggressively growing in Newark.
      First and foremost, United is trying to distinguish itself from Southwest or at least better compete with JetBlue on product.
      American IS the casualty because they look more like Southwest with premium prices than Delta or United. American is the carrier that has struggled internationally; Delta and United have emerged as the two de facto US global carriers and there is going to be a lot less difference between Delta and United's network than in the past. American will be Latin America plus select transatlantic and transpacific plus a massive domestic network - but Southwest has the latter.
      United's transformation will be costly because they have to massively spend to get their number of regional jets down to levels comparable to Delta while American has an "advantage" in having far more large (two-class) regional jets than Delta or United.
      United will succeed but it will come by slowing the growth of low cost carriers in its key markets.

  22. Fiona Bayly

    What a wonderful array of comments here, and what interesting things im learning! I myself am a HUGE fan of United Airlines and want it to continue its upwards trajectory (pun intended).

  23. Richard

    New planes won't change an airline especially their culture. Polaris business class has nice seats, but their service and food sucks.

    1K use to be great years ago. Upgrades were available and pretty easy to use but not now. You can earn your upgrades but if they aren't available what good are they?

    My loyalty to United is gone. I will fly other airlines and get better service and appreciation.

  24. AC

    lucky - not sure about your statement you put DL in a different league from AA and UA. IMHO, they are basically the same (and I'm lifetime elite on both DL and AA). Some like seat back entertainment but I have no problem domestically using my device or just reading my kindle. To me all domestic carriers fall into 3 categories with little, if any, difference as follows:

    - full service airlines (Delta, American, United,...

    lucky - not sure about your statement you put DL in a different league from AA and UA. IMHO, they are basically the same (and I'm lifetime elite on both DL and AA). Some like seat back entertainment but I have no problem domestically using my device or just reading my kindle. To me all domestic carriers fall into 3 categories with little, if any, difference as follows:

    - full service airlines (Delta, American, United, Jet Blue and Alaska)
    - Southwest (doesn't quite measure up since no first class and unable to reserve seats - could care less about free bags (get those anyway))
    - Low fare carriers - (Frontier, Spirit, Allegiant)

    There are a few others (not counting small regional, niche or charter carriers) but all get the job done - it is just what is your expectation and experience. Once I set expectation I'm just as happy flying Frontier for a low price as I was in international business on an AA 777 a few weeks ago from MIA to LAX.

    I've flown almost every airline that has existed in the US since the mid-80s and have around 8.5 million miles so maybe I'm jaded but no domestic flight gets me too excited or willing to differentiate among airlines. I pick the one that works based on fare, times, etc.

  25. DenB

    Reading all the comments just makes me feel so sorry for all of you, who must use these companies to travel. My premium longhaul experience is nearly always on EVA, JL, Cathay. In the early 2010s I was EXP on AA, so my Asia trips were in AA J.
    They just weren't in the same league. The US "triopoly" (I know it's not a word but it fits) really has you Americans all captive...

    Reading all the comments just makes me feel so sorry for all of you, who must use these companies to travel. My premium longhaul experience is nearly always on EVA, JL, Cathay. In the early 2010s I was EXP on AA, so my Asia trips were in AA J.
    They just weren't in the same league. The US "triopoly" (I know it's not a word but it fits) really has you Americans all captive to their hub/spoke domestic model. For us Canadians, Air Canada isn't any better than AA/UA/DL, except transcon Toronto-Vancouver and Toronto - SFO/LAX. Here's hoping United really does improve slightly, which pressures Delta to improve slightly, which forces AA to improve... let's all hold our breath while all that happens.

  26. mh

    Maybe United should start by reopening polaris lounges and other clubs at the most crowded airports (1 club at EWR is unacceptable at this point). Maybe they should also consider hiring more employees to staff the bag drop off desks first too.....

  27. Donna

    The UA culture change notwithstanding, the bigger issue is that UA seems to put out a lot of hype about its new Polaris configurations, the supersonic stuff and now the new narrow body fleet plans but all of it rolls out at a snail’s pace. Talk is cheap but what can you offer me for my travel plans in the next year? The “Polaris”flights on their old, non-competitive wide body seats in J is a...

    The UA culture change notwithstanding, the bigger issue is that UA seems to put out a lot of hype about its new Polaris configurations, the supersonic stuff and now the new narrow body fleet plans but all of it rolls out at a snail’s pace. Talk is cheap but what can you offer me for my travel plans in the next year? The “Polaris”flights on their old, non-competitive wide body seats in J is a joke in their 787s and 767s. I guess if you love the blanket and the “special” amenity kit, you’re okay with it. There may come a time when they are back on top but it seems to be in the distant horizon.

  28. RF

    United as a premium airline? No way. See how much they have cut from the Polaris soft product. Scott Kirby is still a spreadsheets guy. Not good for flyers or employees. It's a rare occurrence to encounter friendly & warm employees when flying United.
    My perspective as a 1K.

  29. JWskiman

    Culture is the driving force behind customer relations. Front-line employees need to be empowered and trusted to do the right thing for customers, as well as feel appreciated by management and customers.

    I think there's something else to be said about personal and national culture, though. The most striking difference in UA CS was when I flew Polaris SFO-TPE. My primary FA was Taiwanese and extremely helpful, smiling at every interaction and overly pleasant...

    Culture is the driving force behind customer relations. Front-line employees need to be empowered and trusted to do the right thing for customers, as well as feel appreciated by management and customers.

    I think there's something else to be said about personal and national culture, though. The most striking difference in UA CS was when I flew Polaris SFO-TPE. My primary FA was Taiwanese and extremely helpful, smiling at every interaction and overly pleasant the entire flight. Contrast that with the (obvious) USA crew members, who were obnoxiously loud and basically going through the motions during food and drink service.

    I'm not insensitive to the challenges of being an FA. My aunt was a UA mainline FA for over 40 years, and I've heard the horror stories. But let's be honest - there was a seismic shift in attitudes after the Continental merger. A lot of UA staff feel they got screwed over, and the uneven leadership did nothing to correct that. Oscar tried, but didn't do enough. It'll be very interesting to see if Kirby can somehow turn it around.

    1. Apsø Eyot

      It’s great that you got nice crew on SFO-TPE. Honestly tho, I don’t know why United even bothers with that route on their own metal and not just let their partner EVA AIR fly an extra daily frequency themselves. They’ve been flying that flight every single day through the whole pandemic (save for that brief period of time they had to stop in Guam on the way), unlike many of their Asia routes, and every...

      It’s great that you got nice crew on SFO-TPE. Honestly tho, I don’t know why United even bothers with that route on their own metal and not just let their partner EVA AIR fly an extra daily frequency themselves. They’ve been flying that flight every single day through the whole pandemic (save for that brief period of time they had to stop in Guam on the way), unlike many of their Asia routes, and every time with a flagship 777-300ER. It’s kinda strange they would sort of waste a 777-300ER on that route when seemingly higher traffic places like SFO-PVG (outside of the pandemic), and SFO-HKG don’t get it anymore. It might’ve sounded more logical to have kept it on at least one of their two SFO-HKG frequencies (but I guess it’s a moot point with the Hong Kong protest situation now). Or even put that 77W on SFO-HND due to the premium cabin and closer proximity to business centers (although the 787-10 would probably suffice for that). If anything, UA’s presence as a third airline on SFO-TPE (unlike all the other US cities served nonstop from TPE) will probably be the factor that causes the new airline Starlux to just skip SFO and fly SJC-TPE instead, which I suppose would be awesome for the large Taiwanese and Asian population in the South Bay.

  30. Dara

    It will never happen. Remember when Polaris first came out? So many cutbacks since inception. Other than the Polaris Lounges which are outstanding, The soft product sucks!

  31. KLUS

    Ben,

    I just flew for the first time 737-900 (which i think you said is not the same as Boeing 737-9, which was the one that crashed). My biggest complaint is about how small the bathroom was; it was so so small, unlike on any other united, as I remember. It was almost inhuman because you could hardly turn around. I wonder if others had the same experience. Of course bathroom are small on airplanes, but this small?

  32. AM

    This. Its gonna take UA a decade or two to really change the culture of the airline. On my second flight since 2019 with UA, the FA was more concerned about talking to her friend vs. a warm welcome Welcome onboard and while she did welcome I believe service will get worse as time goes on as I believe the C level is only a glimmer of hope for employees...

    On a second note I...

    This. Its gonna take UA a decade or two to really change the culture of the airline. On my second flight since 2019 with UA, the FA was more concerned about talking to her friend vs. a warm welcome Welcome onboard and while she did welcome I believe service will get worse as time goes on as I believe the C level is only a glimmer of hope for employees...

    On a second note I believe the Smisek era was the worst and Tilton wasn't really that bad apart from labor issues. United had better service and an actual first class back then and even Premiers were treated better in the sense that service recovery was there. Nowadaysyou are lucky if someone says thanks...

  33. DKS

    I am a 2 million miler on UA and I think they can be very competitive to Delta in the hard product but the soft product depends on culture. United's unionized customer facing workforce will never be able to have the same culture as Delta's non union customer facing workforce.

    Despite United's best efforts you can not instill the same level of customer focus in a US unionized workforce as you can a non...

    I am a 2 million miler on UA and I think they can be very competitive to Delta in the hard product but the soft product depends on culture. United's unionized customer facing workforce will never be able to have the same culture as Delta's non union customer facing workforce.

    Despite United's best efforts you can not instill the same level of customer focus in a US unionized workforce as you can a non unionized workforce. This is due to the union organization being an intermediary between the employee and employer.

  34. Cool Breeze

    Yeah, that Skymiles award program sure is great. My upcoming early winter round trip to Europe in business class would cost me 240,000 Skymiles on alternate dates (640,000 on preferred dates!) but 115,000 AAdvantage miles on preferred dates and plenty of other alternate dates. It's been that way for years which is why, despite being Atlanta based, I have fewer than 300,000 Skymiles but nearly 2,000,000 between AA & UA. Delta's supposed better service doesn't...

    Yeah, that Skymiles award program sure is great. My upcoming early winter round trip to Europe in business class would cost me 240,000 Skymiles on alternate dates (640,000 on preferred dates!) but 115,000 AAdvantage miles on preferred dates and plenty of other alternate dates. It's been that way for years which is why, despite being Atlanta based, I have fewer than 300,000 Skymiles but nearly 2,000,000 between AA & UA. Delta's supposed better service doesn't impress me when all my paid travel is on me and the award travel is impossible to come by at anything near a reasonable rate.

  35. JD

    "Delta has historically had the most employee profit sharing among airlines in the United States, and as a result employees are invested in the success of the airline"

    I think it's important to note when we are giving Delta credit for their Profit Sharing, that the ONLY reason it exists is because of the Delta Pilot's Union. They won that when they took paycuts over a decade ago and never gave it up. Delta tried...

    "Delta has historically had the most employee profit sharing among airlines in the United States, and as a result employees are invested in the success of the airline"

    I think it's important to note when we are giving Delta credit for their Profit Sharing, that the ONLY reason it exists is because of the Delta Pilot's Union. They won that when they took paycuts over a decade ago and never gave it up. Delta tried to claw it back. When they couldn't get it back and the profit sharing checks were going to be huge for the Pilots, they really had no choice but to give it to everyone else or suffer the consequences and inevitable Union drives.

    It's definitely a great motivator, but it's not one Delta management deserves credit for.

  36. Linda Motley

    United has a long way to go with customer service. Rarely have I felt employees are concerned about the comfort of the passengers. Most attendants are strictly business, unfriendly, and condescending. I really dislike this airline. Once we were the the only 1st class customers that didn't get a hot breakfast. They didn't have enough. I feel their customers comfort are their last concern. Unfortunately they've had most of the gates at Newark airport so...

    United has a long way to go with customer service. Rarely have I felt employees are concerned about the comfort of the passengers. Most attendants are strictly business, unfriendly, and condescending. I really dislike this airline. Once we were the the only 1st class customers that didn't get a hot breakfast. They didn't have enough. I feel their customers comfort are their last concern. Unfortunately they've had most of the gates at Newark airport so we don't always have a choice.

  37. Derek

    United's "upgrade" is still a downgrade to previous standards though: the previous norm was seatback entertainment with 31in pitch. United and American changed that to streaming entertainment with 30in pitch. Now, United is bringing back seatback entertainment but is retaining the 30in pitch (see the Omaat article about the leaked seatmap).

    Another thing about the Collins Meridian seats United chose which Air Canada, Southwest, and Jetblue use as well is that they have incredibly...

    United's "upgrade" is still a downgrade to previous standards though: the previous norm was seatback entertainment with 31in pitch. United and American changed that to streaming entertainment with 30in pitch. Now, United is bringing back seatback entertainment but is retaining the 30in pitch (see the Omaat article about the leaked seatmap).

    Another thing about the Collins Meridian seats United chose which Air Canada, Southwest, and Jetblue use as well is that they have incredibly narrow armrests so they can fudge the seat width to be greater than average in the aircraft they are installed in. Air Canada lists an 18in seat width on the 737 Max and Southwest claims to have the widest 737 seats but those numbers just aren't the same as real 18in seats on an A320 (although Air Canada did try to increase A220 seat width from 18.6in to 19in as well).

    What's interesting is that United's new domestic economy experience will be identical to fellow Star Alliance partner Air Canada's new domestic economy on the 737 Max and A220 with the same Collins Meridian seats and same 30in pitch. (width of course will depend on aircraft).

  38. C. Weston

    Sky Pesos premium? Award availability and cost are a joke. I don't find that very premium.

  39. Derek

    United's "upgrade" is still a downgrade to previous standards though: the previous norm was seatback entertainment with 31in pitch. United and American changed that to streaming entertainment with 30in pitch. Now, United is bringing back seatback entertainment but is retaining the 30in pitch (see the Omaat article about the leaked seatmap).

    Another thing about the Collins Meridian seats United chose which Air Canada, Southwest, and Jetblue use as well is that they have incredibly...

    United's "upgrade" is still a downgrade to previous standards though: the previous norm was seatback entertainment with 31in pitch. United and American changed that to streaming entertainment with 30in pitch. Now, United is bringing back seatback entertainment but is retaining the 30in pitch (see the Omaat article about the leaked seatmap).

    Another thing about the Collins Meridian seats United chose which Air Canada, Southwest, and Jetblue use as well is that they have incredibly narrow armrests so they can fudge the seat width to be greater than average in the aircraft they are installed in. Air Canada lists an 18in seat width on the 737 Max and Southwest claims to have the widest 737 seats but those numbers just aren't the same as real 18in seats on an A320 (although Air Canada did try to increase A220 seat width from 18.6in to 19in as well).

    What's interesting is that United's new domestic economy experience will be identical to fellow Star Alliance member Air Canada's new domestic economy on the 737 Max and A220 with the same Collins Meridian seats and same 30in pitch. (width of course will depend on aircraft).

    1. Jason

      When on earth was there a standard of having seatback entertainment across all narrowbody aircraft? United never had it. Delta had t had it til recently. American and USAir beaver had it fleetwide. Continental had TVs you had to pay for. What mythical last are you creating?

    2. Derek

      Seatback entertainment wasn't there since the dawn of aviation but there was a time were United and American had seatback entertainment standard on their narrowbody 737's and A320's. Only recently was that taken away by United's second latest round of retrofits and American's Project Oasis.

  40. BR

    I would agree that it will take a while for a culture shift to fully occur at United, but I will also argue that it will take a while for a similar shift to occur in passengers. Most Passengers have preconceived notions of an airline brand without updating them (“Delta is my favorite and United is terrible because I’ve felt that for 10 years” or “I fly Southwest because they are always cheaper” etc)

  41. JamesYvr

    United ground customer facing folks are generally horrible. Not sure they can change overnight. I stopped using them years ago.

  42. JetJ0ck

    They can become premium! They just need to abandon the announced upcoming plans to allow their employees to have visible tattoos. That would majorly conflict with becoming a premium experience.

  43. Evan

    If they want to be a premium airline, they have to go "all in". For example, under Smisek days, remember when United "upgraded" their international economy class main meal, only to take away the mid-flight snack and replace them with snack boxes for purchase. Well, the complimentary mid-flight snacks came back, presumably after customer complaints.

    As another example (pre-Covid), United was "testing" a complimentary sandwich on longer flights to Hawaii. Dealt was already treating it's...

    If they want to be a premium airline, they have to go "all in". For example, under Smisek days, remember when United "upgraded" their international economy class main meal, only to take away the mid-flight snack and replace them with snack boxes for purchase. Well, the complimentary mid-flight snacks came back, presumably after customer complaints.

    As another example (pre-Covid), United was "testing" a complimentary sandwich on longer flights to Hawaii. Dealt was already treating it's long-haul Hawaii flights similar to international flights.

    It's that type of stuff UA needs to avoid. If UA is trying to go for a net zero investment to become premium, it won't work. Customers may not notice a new benefit, but they are quick to notice something taken away.

  44. HeathrowGuy

    Tim,

    I have to strongly disagree with you re: international growth, especially for transpacific. Pre-pandemic, Delta struggled mightily in the transpacific market with comparatively weak hubs (Seattle can't hold a candle to SFO in O&D demand), and the lack of a strong Japanese airline partner like JAL or ANA. While Delta can further leverage its partnership with Korean Air, even that relationship is in jeopardy if KE moves forward with its plans to acquire Asiana.

    Tim,

    I have to strongly disagree with you re: international growth, especially for transpacific. Pre-pandemic, Delta struggled mightily in the transpacific market with comparatively weak hubs (Seattle can't hold a candle to SFO in O&D demand), and the lack of a strong Japanese airline partner like JAL or ANA. While Delta can further leverage its partnership with Korean Air, even that relationship is in jeopardy if KE moves forward with its plans to acquire Asiana.

    1. Tim Dunn

      debate is fine.
      You can define "struggled" however you wish but, according to public data which each airline files with the US DOT, Delta reported $303 million in net income across the Pacific in 2019 while United lost $84 million.
      In 2019, United was the largest carrier across the Pacific among all carriers but Delta was #2. Korean was #3.
      China and Hong Kong, which is where United had a huge advantage...

      debate is fine.
      You can define "struggled" however you wish but, according to public data which each airline files with the US DOT, Delta reported $303 million in net income across the Pacific in 2019 while United lost $84 million.
      In 2019, United was the largest carrier across the Pacific among all carriers but Delta was #2. Korean was #3.
      China and Hong Kong, which is where United had a huge advantage over Delta, simply won't come back to the size they were before.
      Asiana is broke. They have no choice but to shrink. All Korean has to do is slowly drain them down in size until there is nothing left to merge.
      Throughout the pandemic, even though demand has been greatly reduced, Delta has been the largest US airline from the US to E. Asia and that is continuing through at least through the summer. Trends have to turn around pretty quickly if United is going to erase Delta's gains.

  45. Euro

    Let's get this out of the way first: THEORETICALLY it is possible.

    But... thus far, I have never flown UA except for 1 UA Express segment. Why? Because I generally associated UA as having a poor reputation (servicewise and operationwise). There's also a feeling that when something goes wrong, they don't do anything to ensure things are fixed and blame the passenger, plus there was a feeling that things will go wrong more often on...

    Let's get this out of the way first: THEORETICALLY it is possible.

    But... thus far, I have never flown UA except for 1 UA Express segment. Why? Because I generally associated UA as having a poor reputation (servicewise and operationwise). There's also a feeling that when something goes wrong, they don't do anything to ensure things are fixed and blame the passenger, plus there was a feeling that things will go wrong more often on UA than on AA/DL.

    There was also a feeling that one flies UA because they are by far the cheapest option to get from point A to point B (usually internationally in Y, esp with their 747s, plus "dormitory style business class" on their 777s/747s) and you just put up with the surly service, horrible food, and ancient cabins. Even when they were putting in their Polaris seats there was a feeling from me that they are trying to compensate for their poor soft product with a superior hard product, and in my eyes, having a poor soft product spoils the experience, no matter how good the hard product may be. It was only recently after reading reviews of their improved soft product and that one segment on UA Express (which was acceptable) that I'm willing to fly UA, short haul or long haul.

    Can they be considered "premium?" They have made progress towards addressing their past reputation. I hope they can continue. But every misstep they make still resonates a lot more in my eyes on UA than on the other domestic carriers because of their prior reputation.

  46. Tim Dunn

    First, let’s be clear that United placed the massive order it did because it operates the world’s largest 50 seat regional jet fleet and those aircraft are reaching the end of their service lives and there is no replacement.
    Second, United is making its strategic changes because Southwest, not Delta, is its most direct competitor. United and Southwest directly compete in every United hub except NYC where JetBlue is its most direct competitor at...

    First, let’s be clear that United placed the massive order it did because it operates the world’s largest 50 seat regional jet fleet and those aircraft are reaching the end of their service lives and there is no replacement.
    Second, United is making its strategic changes because Southwest, not Delta, is its most direct competitor. United and Southwest directly compete in every United hub except NYC where JetBlue is its most direct competitor at Newark.
    Third, while Delta operates B737s and United operates and has A320family aircraft on order, the A320 is simply a wider fuselage which is true across every competing Airbus/Boeing product. At the same pitch, an A320 will have more passenger space than a B737 seat. "Premium" has to consider passenger space.
    Fourth, whether UA’s supposedly better premium international product, it doesn’t translate into higher revenues in markets where the two directly compete. Not only will Delta’s Airbus international fleet on order provide more space per passenger simply because the A330 and A350 have wider seats in coach and premium economy classes (both where most people fly) than United’s 777 and 787 configurations, but the 777s burn significantly more fuel on routes where fuel efficiency matters the most.
    UAL’s mainline strategy is premium compared to its massive 50 seat regional jet fleet but they are simply catching up to other carriers including Delta which have far fewer and higher quality regional jets.

    1. Gravelly Point Guy

      For your info, Mr Wiseguy, United STILL has around 18 more 787-10 aircraft on order scheduled to be delivered by 4 th quarter 2023. It still has, confirmed by Nocella himself, the 45 Plane A350 order confirmed by 2027, the LATEST!,Hmmm., let’s see here, if you add all these up you’re talking about close to 300 WIDEBODIES, even after retiring some older 767 and 777!! Room to grow?? Are you kidding me ? Meanwhile DL...

      For your info, Mr Wiseguy, United STILL has around 18 more 787-10 aircraft on order scheduled to be delivered by 4 th quarter 2023. It still has, confirmed by Nocella himself, the 45 Plane A350 order confirmed by 2027, the LATEST!,Hmmm., let’s see here, if you add all these up you’re talking about close to 300 WIDEBODIES, even after retiring some older 767 and 777!! Room to grow?? Are you kidding me ? Meanwhile DL barely has 100 widebodies in stock and yes some on order. They won’t even make a dent to United’s fleet size and reach. For once in your miserable life, cut it out and admit when others triumphed and beat you up, how about a slice of humble pie, huh? Does everybody good from time to time!

    2. Tim Dunn

      If you are aiming to triumph, you have a different goal. Delta has more new generation wide bodies on order than American or United, doesn’t have any 777s - a large chunk of which are grounded for United - and Delta is buying 13 nearly new A350s as OMAAT has covered.
      And none of that changes that Delta has carried more passengers across the N Pacific over the past year and has more scheduled...

      If you are aiming to triumph, you have a different goal. Delta has more new generation wide bodies on order than American or United, doesn’t have any 777s - a large chunk of which are grounded for United - and Delta is buying 13 nearly new A350s as OMAAT has covered.
      And none of that changes that Delta has carried more passengers across the N Pacific over the past year and has more scheduled capacity this summer.
      Just maybe the prepandemic status quo won’t be the same going forward

    3. FlyerDon

      Not to be too technical Tim, but United does not operate any 50 seat aircraft. When riding on a 50 seat United Express flight you are riding on another carrier not Main Line United. They also aren’t replacing RJ flying with 737-10s and A321s, but it would be nice if they were. United has plenty of A320’s that need to be replaced and they need replacements for the 757 and 767 fleets. Bigger regional jets are going to replace the 50 seat RJs.

  47. Greg

    UNITED is rising

    Savvy fliers are figuring out how much of delta is vapor ware

  48. Aaron

    Human behavior is hard to change. Not impossible, just difficult. I think most of the current UA employees would need to leave or retire, because their approach to customer service is just too engrained in them. Also, new employees are highly impressionable and simply follow the lead/attitude of the tenured employees. I just don't see any light at the end of the tunnel.

  49. TM

    UA has come a long way since the Dr. Dau incident, but I still see too many CRJs at my home airport to consider them a premium airline. Plus, they have some of the worst hubs in EWR,ORD, and SFO (fog delays!). Certainly though some of these changes should put Delta on notice. As international travel resumes, the lack of a premium lounge for DL is a huge hole that will need to be filled....

    UA has come a long way since the Dr. Dau incident, but I still see too many CRJs at my home airport to consider them a premium airline. Plus, they have some of the worst hubs in EWR,ORD, and SFO (fog delays!). Certainly though some of these changes should put Delta on notice. As international travel resumes, the lack of a premium lounge for DL is a huge hole that will need to be filled. UA also maintained a higher level of service in first/business throughout Covid, but that was temporary and I would assume by years end, those differences between UA,DL, and AA will be minimal.

    Further back in the plane, UA is still years away from DL for a “premium” regular economy experience. Domestically, DL has a better fleet for economy passengers, with IFE across the board and the pleasant A220 growing across the route network. Internationally, UA is committed to the 787 and 777 for decades to come, both which feature densely configured economy cabins with 3-3-3 on the 787 and 3-4-3 on the 777. Deltas futures lies more in the A330s, which have the excellent 2-4-2 configuration and the A350, which is more reasonably wide enough to fit 3-3-3 seating.

  50. MoGreen

    I was a Delta Diamond from the first year they offered it and a Million Miler on Delta , then had to switch to United and was a 1K for many years and have about 500K miles flown with United , so can say I have a good deal of experience with both.

    The overall service levels at Delta are definitely better , I think both have great people and both have terrible people ,...

    I was a Delta Diamond from the first year they offered it and a Million Miler on Delta , then had to switch to United and was a 1K for many years and have about 500K miles flown with United , so can say I have a good deal of experience with both.

    The overall service levels at Delta are definitely better , I think both have great people and both have terrible people , but the chances of having indifferent United employees is just higher than with Delta and believe it all comes down to training and for sure compensation. You drive the behavior you want from employees with incentives and compensation and Delta does a better job of rewarding employees for great service.

    If United makes this change , then they will be "Premium"

  51. Richard_

    It takes a lot of work by management to change a corporate culture, so it could take UA a while to improve service. Improving the hard product is easier and UA seems to be doing that.

    DL has issues at the moment, including insane wait times when calling and moving slowly to reinstate meal service. That's of course a management issue rather than something caused by employees.

  52. stogieguy7

    I fly UA a lot and have had pretty good luck. No, it's not Singapore Airlines but it's good for a domestic. To be truthful, in economy I find WN to be better; but they lack many of the other perks that UA offers. No lounge, no economy plus, etc (not meant as a knock - it's just a different model). When I've tried DL, it's generally ok but nothing special. Just ok. I've flown...

    I fly UA a lot and have had pretty good luck. No, it's not Singapore Airlines but it's good for a domestic. To be truthful, in economy I find WN to be better; but they lack many of the other perks that UA offers. No lounge, no economy plus, etc (not meant as a knock - it's just a different model). When I've tried DL, it's generally ok but nothing special. Just ok. I've flown the Delta Shuttle ORD-LGA a couple of times and it was good. Not spectacular but good.

    Flew AA not long before the pandemic and the seats were new but cramped, the onboard service was fine, and my return was plagued by the patented "AA rolling delay" to the tune of over 2 hours. Would have been nice if I didn't have to get to PBI airport at 4 am for a flight that ultimately left at 7:30. Why? Because the crew didn't show up and some called in "sick" (other employees were gossiping that they had a night out and overdid it). Real professional. So, AA sucks.

    Given all this, I see no reason why UA can't be "the premium US airline". They'll have to fight DL for the title, and DL is the incumbent but UA has the better alliance and network to start with. Could make for interesting times.

  53. JB

    I also wonder if this will cause a change in American’s strategy?

  54. Santastico

    It would take at least a generation for United to change its culture. They can do all right things in upgrading planes, technology, etc.. but their culture is rotten and will not change anytime soon.

    Now, here is my experience with United. I haven’t been on a United plane in 20 years until two months ago that my new job has taken me to a place that is only served by United from Denver. After...

    It would take at least a generation for United to change its culture. They can do all right things in upgrading planes, technology, etc.. but their culture is rotten and will not change anytime soon.

    Now, here is my experience with United. I haven’t been on a United plane in 20 years until two months ago that my new job has taken me to a place that is only served by United from Denver. After being a Diamond and 360 with Delta for over 10 years I asked for a status match and was promptly given 1K for a trial period. I flew 3 times in the last 2 months from Minneapolis to Denver and had a connection to my final destination. All 3 times I missed my connection in Denver (55 minutes lay over) because of weather related issues in Denver. Yes, not really United’s fault BUT twice I made to my connection gate within minutes of the boarding time to find the boarding door closed and the plane still sitting there. It is a small plane and once they left 10 passengers at the gate door screaming to be allowed into the plane that was still there and have the gate agent simply ignore us all. Funny enough, I received an email from United saying they were holding the plane for me. Total BS!!!! Also, I flew 8 segments with United (not counting the missed connections) and although I am a 1K member I was never upgraded. Maybe more difficult to be upgraded in Denver but in Minneapolis it should not be that difficult but not a single one. Also, at least the planes I have been on have no electrical outlets to change a phone, no entertainment system (I miss watching live TV on Delta planes), no food. I really miss flying Delta.

    1. Joey

      I'm surprised that you haven't gotten that many upgrades as a 1K.
      I used to be a Continental OnePass Platinum (that was the highest published elite tier) and really enjoyed flying CO. After the merger with UA, everything changed. From the customer service to not getting upgraded anymore, I changed allegiance to Delta and haven't looked back since.

    2. Santastico

      I am upgraded on Delta all the time as a Diamond. Absolutely zero upgrades on United as a 1K so far.

  55. Jack

    Sure the hard product is getting better but that is only part of the equation. I was 1K for several years and finally got fed up and left. The WiFi was always awful (I do like how United bills WiFi directly on most flights which made a good use of AMEX credits), the staff while not mean or negative didn't seem they want to be there, and the countless devaluations to the loyalty program. I'll...

    Sure the hard product is getting better but that is only part of the equation. I was 1K for several years and finally got fed up and left. The WiFi was always awful (I do like how United bills WiFi directly on most flights which made a good use of AMEX credits), the staff while not mean or negative didn't seem they want to be there, and the countless devaluations to the loyalty program. I'll still fly United if it works best for me but they no longer have anything compelling where I go directly to their website and blindly book flights.

  56. Uaflyer

    Among most people I know — mainly people who travel for work and buy business when flying leisure — United is considered far more premium than Delta — mainly because of its far superior FF program, airport hubs (SF, Newark, Chicago), international route network, and frequency / number of premium seats on transcons. (The Delta One seats are very uncomfortable.)

    That said, most of the people I know spend most of their time in major...

    Among most people I know — mainly people who travel for work and buy business when flying leisure — United is considered far more premium than Delta — mainly because of its far superior FF program, airport hubs (SF, Newark, Chicago), international route network, and frequency / number of premium seats on transcons. (The Delta One seats are very uncomfortable.)

    That said, most of the people I know spend most of their time in major business cities like SF, NY, LA, London, and Tokyo — and don’t really understand why one would want to be flying to Dallas, Minneapolis, or Miami.

  57. Ray

    They have a long way to go in service culture before I associate United with Premium.
    That service culture that lead to United 3411.

  58. Redman

    Getting upset about UA customer service is like showing up to an amusement park and being disappointed with the crowds. If the lines are short great, if they are long then oh well. It was to be expected.

    I like UA because their schedules work for me and their on board product is great as is their premium lounges. I don’t need a smiling flight attendant or gate agent to make me happy about my...

    Getting upset about UA customer service is like showing up to an amusement park and being disappointed with the crowds. If the lines are short great, if they are long then oh well. It was to be expected.

    I like UA because their schedules work for me and their on board product is great as is their premium lounges. I don’t need a smiling flight attendant or gate agent to make me happy about my flight. Sure it’s a bonus, but give me good schedules, nice interiors with flat lying seats, and competent pilots up front and leave me alone so I can relax and I’m happy.

  59. JJH

    I’ve been a United 1K member for almost 10 years. Last year I received one of the targeted status matches to Delta Diamond, and took advantage of it. I requalified for status next year with both airlines. I was expecting to be much happier with Delta, but to honest, I really have not been.

    To me, one of the most consistent points of differentiation is telephone support. If I call Delta, even entering my Diamond...

    I’ve been a United 1K member for almost 10 years. Last year I received one of the targeted status matches to Delta Diamond, and took advantage of it. I requalified for status next year with both airlines. I was expecting to be much happier with Delta, but to honest, I really have not been.

    To me, one of the most consistent points of differentiation is telephone support. If I call Delta, even entering my Diamond number, their phone line consistently has delays of multiple hours to get through to speak with someone. If I call United and enter my 1K number, a live agent will answer the call within seconds every time.

    Delta’s in-flight service during the pandemic has been way behind United’s. Admittedly, for a while, the seat blocking was nice, and United did not offer that. But Delta went on offering no meals or beverages, even in first class, for long after United had brought those services back. Even now, Delta is offering like canned cocktails instead of a normal beverage service; it’s not bad, but overall, I prefer United’s approach there.

    I’ve found customer service is really “hit or miss” on both airlines. I have definitely noticed some Delta agents go above and beyond — but then I have the same thing happen with United. I’ve also had some very sullen and grumpy agents on both airlines.

    My sense is that United’s technology is better overall. You have much more powerful tools as a customer to put yourself on the upgrade list, to change your flights (even after it’s been upgraded), to move to flights on the previous/next day, etc. United’s app is just way more powerful and informative. With Delta, most changes require calling an agent (which maybe is why it takes hours to get through!). And a lot of information is hidden; for example, you can’t look up flights on routes to see how hard/easy it is to get an upgrade to help decide whether to pay for first class or book coach and hope for an upgrade; Delta will only show you upgrade info for the specific flights you are already booked on.

    Admittedly Delta’s Wi-Fi is generally better, but United’s Wi-Fi is usually adequate for my needs. Pricing on Wi-Fi is comparable right now between the carriers.

    I would say Delta’s SkyClub is clearly better than the United Club in terms of food and beverage offerings (and I like the ability to pay for premium wines with SkyMiles at an actually decent valuation). This is particularly true in New York — if you have an Amex Platinum, you can choose between the Amex lounge or Delta SkyClub at JFK, whereas United just has one fairly dismal United Club at EWR. But United Polaris is *way* better than SkyClub if you have an international flight, and I tend to value club access more for those flights since I normally arrive for domestic flights just in time to board the aircraft.

    Of course for this blog MileagePlus is *way* better than SkyMiles. I have found it is possible to find decent redemptions with SkyMiles, but I frankly suspect that all of the ones I have found have been because Delta’s technology was on the fritz and it accidentally priced Delta One flights as if they were “first class” flights (a lower level of service). United seems to have much better award availability, and of course a huge range of partners.

    So, after trying both a lot recently, I’m just not sold on the idea that Delta is clearly better. They’re very close, but ultimately, I think United gives elite members more flexibilty and control over their flight changes (e.g., same day changes don’t actually need to be same day) and it’s more transparent so you can more easily score upgrades, etc., by choosing flights strategically. So I’d kind of give United the edge for frequent travellers.

    1. DLPTATL

      I completely feel your pain with Delta's elite number line. I can assure you that pre-COVID that they answered after a few rings. Delta management has come out and acknowledged the call center(s) problem and they're working on hiring/re-hiring a number of agents to solve this problem. I have had great experiences with Delta agents in SLC and MSP over the years and, even now when it take me 3-4 hours to get a callback,...

      I completely feel your pain with Delta's elite number line. I can assure you that pre-COVID that they answered after a few rings. Delta management has come out and acknowledged the call center(s) problem and they're working on hiring/re-hiring a number of agents to solve this problem. I have had great experiences with Delta agents in SLC and MSP over the years and, even now when it take me 3-4 hours to get a callback, I get an excellent agent 100% of the time that does whatever it takes to solve my problem.

      Hang in there with Delta, they're fixing your biggest issue.

  60. UA-NYC

    Will be curious if they give the Airbii the Polaris seats or at least the 2x2 last gen CO seats (given the 757 retirement)...that will be telling. If they want to run them on TCON and thin W. European/UK routes, they better have them.

    1. Paul

      Direct aisle access is a competitive feature to have.

  61. Sharon

    Believe United is quickly moving up toward being with delta, American is being left in the dust.

    United has a robust International network, and has already committed to it with its signature Polaris Class and Lounge product.

    I believe with United’s announcement yesterday, they are on their way up.

    American simply cannot afford to make the investments that United is making, look at their awful mismanaged balance sheet, even post COVID it...

    Believe United is quickly moving up toward being with delta, American is being left in the dust.

    United has a robust International network, and has already committed to it with its signature Polaris Class and Lounge product.

    I believe with United’s announcement yesterday, they are on their way up.

    American simply cannot afford to make the investments that United is making, look at their awful mismanaged balance sheet, even post COVID it was awful.

    American has the most to loose, as United will become stronger in EWR, making its “jfk hub” have challenges, it does not know what its west coast strategy is.

    Only weak link for United is they don’t have a southeast hub.

    1. Tim Dunn

      Sharon,
      United's significantly larger international route system than Delta pre-covid probably won't last in the next few years. Right now, Delta is flying more capacity from the US to East Asia than United in part because China has greatly restricted the amount of flights between the US and China. Hong Kong is offline for US carriers. There are structural and political realities that will prevent United from growing back to its former size in...

      Sharon,
      United's significantly larger international route system than Delta pre-covid probably won't last in the next few years. Right now, Delta is flying more capacity from the US to East Asia than United in part because China has greatly restricted the amount of flights between the US and China. Hong Kong is offline for US carriers. There are structural and political realities that will prevent United from growing back to its former size in Asia while Delta is very well positioned to be able to grow; remember, Northwest was the largest carrier to Asia and Delta chose to drop down to #2 while restructuring its Pacific away from Tokyo as a hub to having the largest foreign carrier position at Haneda and the largest joint venture hub in Asia at Seoul.
      As for debt, United's debt will more than double American's level and easily be 3X Delta's level. That debt costs money to service and it will be very hard for United to compete on routes where Delta will have lower costs across the board.

    2. Bob

      Tim,

      Don't want to poke the bear, but United said debt will not increase from current levels with this order, or remain at $25B. American is currently at $41B - how exactly do you expect them to cut it to just $12.5B (or heck, $25B) in 2 years? How will it be 3x of Delta, who is currently at $28B?

      Bob

    3. Tim Dunn

      Bob,
      you need only look at the aircraft commitments from each carriers' 10Ks plus their debt service costs and their historic free cash flow generation - assuming they return to those levels.
      There is absolutely no way that United's debt will not skyrocket. They have $10 billion in debt due over just 3 years even as they receive the bulk of this order.
      And the point is still that, if UAL can...

      Bob,
      you need only look at the aircraft commitments from each carriers' 10Ks plus their debt service costs and their historic free cash flow generation - assuming they return to those levels.
      There is absolutely no way that United's debt will not skyrocket. They have $10 billion in debt due over just 3 years even as they receive the bulk of this order.
      And the point is still that, if UAL can wildly assume huge improvements in the business environment, other carriers will benefit as well. UAL is spending about $10 billion just to get to a fleet composition (percent of mainline narrowbody vs. regional jets) which American and Delta currently operate. They all have aircraft on order, just like Southwest does. UAL might not increase its debt by using every cent of free cash flow once the orders start arriving to pay for the new aircraft - but no longer pay down current debt which other carriers will do. There is no rational basis for believing that UAL can pay for the massive amount of fleet they are ordering in cash (without increasing debt) while other carriers which have far less in debt will not be comparatively better off.

  62. Scott

    Until United management understand that people will pay for better quality and customer service and a smile, it will never be.

    I was Delta Platinum from 97-2002, then United 1k from 02-13, then American ExecPlat from 13-19 then a free agent when all the airlines made it clear loyalty meant nothing of you can afford Business or First Class.

    They only seem to value high fare economy, they are the ones that get the most out of the programs.

    1. JJH

      Scott, I have found the United loyalty program to be valuable. For example, I can pretty much always use my GPUs/RPUs (now PlusPoints) to confirm upgrades — I like to use them to go to Brazil because it’s super easy to confirm in advance on that route. Standing by for complimentary upgrades, admittedly, can be an exercise in frustration. But upgrades to lie-flat business on long-haul flights are quite valuable, plus the added flexibility to...

      Scott, I have found the United loyalty program to be valuable. For example, I can pretty much always use my GPUs/RPUs (now PlusPoints) to confirm upgrades — I like to use them to go to Brazil because it’s super easy to confirm in advance on that route. Standing by for complimentary upgrades, admittedly, can be an exercise in frustration. But upgrades to lie-flat business on long-haul flights are quite valuable, plus the added flexibility to make same-day changes, better phone support, etc.

      I guess it is true that if you would exclusively buy business or first class anyway, the loyalty program doesn’t do that much incrementally for you. I guess you get priority in an irregular operations situation, but that’s about it.

    2. Scott

      As I said if you already pay for J/F why bother with loyalty, and that's the customer spending money that you want, but they haven't figured out how to get them.

    3. Kate

      The highest level of status I have is 1k on United. I have a variety of other levels on other carriers but fly mostly on United and their partner airlines.
      With that said, United hands down is one of the worst domestic carriers and should not even be considered for international travel. Even the regionals for Alaska, Delta and AA are better then United.
      Polaris service and food are an embarrassment to the...

      The highest level of status I have is 1k on United. I have a variety of other levels on other carriers but fly mostly on United and their partner airlines.
      With that said, United hands down is one of the worst domestic carriers and should not even be considered for international travel. Even the regionals for Alaska, Delta and AA are better then United.
      Polaris service and food are an embarrassment to the luxury brand. Delta and AA by far exceed expectations of quality, presentation and service. The flight attendants on United are some of the oldest and nastiest in the industry as well as unhealthy in appearance.
      I have written to United on many occasions but nothing changes. I flew on Polaris when it was first introduced and it was amazing. I thought United had made it to the big leagues. Unfortunately, it was short lived. United quickly cut back on its amenities and service to once again fall behind their competition.
      I will agree as a 1K customer the call centers are quicker, but have definitely had to wait for a call back on many occasions. The call center customer service has for the most part been a pleasant experience.
      Just this past week I have been on JetBlue, Southwest, AA, Alaska and United. I would say Alaska got the top rating for the week with United at the bottom.
      United can buy all the new planes and add new routes, but until major changes happen it will just be lipstick on a pig.

    4. Bobby

      I’ve never been able to confirm these United “Plus” point upgrades in advance. I have a ton of Systemwide upgrades on AA and a ton of Global upgrades on Delta. I’ve consistently turned down United in favor of AA and Delta over the past 2 years because of this very fact. How in the world do you get confirmed upgrades on United? It’s just not possible on 99% of routes. It’s just a crap shoot you can always lose.

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JJH

I’ve been a United 1K member for almost 10 years. Last year I received one of the targeted status matches to Delta Diamond, and took advantage of it. I requalified for status next year with both airlines. I was expecting to be much happier with Delta, but to honest, I really have not been. To me, one of the most consistent points of differentiation is telephone support. If I call Delta, even entering my Diamond number, their phone line consistently has delays of multiple hours to get through to speak with someone. If I call United and enter my 1K number, a live agent will answer the call within seconds every time. Delta’s in-flight service during the pandemic has been way behind United’s. Admittedly, for a while, the seat blocking was nice, and United did not offer that. But Delta went on offering no meals or beverages, even in first class, for long after United had brought those services back. Even now, Delta is offering like canned cocktails instead of a normal beverage service; it’s not bad, but overall, I prefer United’s approach there. I’ve found customer service is really “hit or miss” on both airlines. I have definitely noticed some Delta agents go above and beyond — but then I have the same thing happen with United. I’ve also had some very sullen and grumpy agents on both airlines. My sense is that United’s technology is better overall. You have much more powerful tools as a customer to put yourself on the upgrade list, to change your flights (even after it’s been upgraded), to move to flights on the previous/next day, etc. United’s app is just way more powerful and informative. With Delta, most changes require calling an agent (which maybe is why it takes hours to get through!). And a lot of information is hidden; for example, you can’t look up flights on routes to see how hard/easy it is to get an upgrade to help decide whether to pay for first class or book coach and hope for an upgrade; Delta will only show you upgrade info for the specific flights you are already booked on. Admittedly Delta’s Wi-Fi is generally better, but United’s Wi-Fi is usually adequate for my needs. Pricing on Wi-Fi is comparable right now between the carriers. I would say Delta’s SkyClub is clearly better than the United Club in terms of food and beverage offerings (and I like the ability to pay for premium wines with SkyMiles at an actually decent valuation). This is particularly true in New York — if you have an Amex Platinum, you can choose between the Amex lounge or Delta SkyClub at JFK, whereas United just has one fairly dismal United Club at EWR. But United Polaris is *way* better than SkyClub if you have an international flight, and I tend to value club access more for those flights since I normally arrive for domestic flights just in time to board the aircraft. Of course for this blog MileagePlus is *way* better than SkyMiles. I have found it is possible to find decent redemptions with SkyMiles, but I frankly suspect that all of the ones I have found have been because Delta’s technology was on the fritz and it accidentally priced Delta One flights as if they were “first class” flights (a lower level of service). United seems to have much better award availability, and of course a huge range of partners. So, after trying both a lot recently, I’m just not sold on the idea that Delta is clearly better. They’re very close, but ultimately, I think United gives elite members more flexibilty and control over their flight changes (e.g., same day changes don’t actually need to be same day) and it’s more transparent so you can more easily score upgrades, etc., by choosing flights strategically. So I’d kind of give United the edge for frequent travellers.

Santastico

It would take at least a generation for United to change its culture. They can do all right things in upgrading planes, technology, etc.. but their culture is rotten and will not change anytime soon. Now, here is my experience with United. I haven’t been on a United plane in 20 years until two months ago that my new job has taken me to a place that is only served by United from Denver. After being a Diamond and 360 with Delta for over 10 years I asked for a status match and was promptly given 1K for a trial period. I flew 3 times in the last 2 months from Minneapolis to Denver and had a connection to my final destination. All 3 times I missed my connection in Denver (55 minutes lay over) because of weather related issues in Denver. Yes, not really United’s fault BUT twice I made to my connection gate within minutes of the boarding time to find the boarding door closed and the plane still sitting there. It is a small plane and once they left 10 passengers at the gate door screaming to be allowed into the plane that was still there and have the gate agent simply ignore us all. Funny enough, I received an email from United saying they were holding the plane for me. Total BS!!!! Also, I flew 8 segments with United (not counting the missed connections) and although I am a 1K member I was never upgraded. Maybe more difficult to be upgraded in Denver but in Minneapolis it should not be that difficult but not a single one. Also, at least the planes I have been on have no electrical outlets to change a phone, no entertainment system (I miss watching live TV on Delta planes), no food. I really miss flying Delta.

Tim Dunn

First, let’s be clear that United placed the massive order it did because it operates the world’s largest 50 seat regional jet fleet and those aircraft are reaching the end of their service lives and there is no replacement. Second, United is making its strategic changes because Southwest, not Delta, is its most direct competitor. United and Southwest directly compete in every United hub except NYC where JetBlue is its most direct competitor at Newark. Third, while Delta operates B737s and United operates and has A320family aircraft on order, the A320 is simply a wider fuselage which is true across every competing Airbus/Boeing product. At the same pitch, an A320 will have more passenger space than a B737 seat. "Premium" has to consider passenger space. Fourth, whether UA’s supposedly better premium international product, it doesn’t translate into higher revenues in markets where the two directly compete. Not only will Delta’s Airbus international fleet on order provide more space per passenger simply because the A330 and A350 have wider seats in coach and premium economy classes (both where most people fly) than United’s 777 and 787 configurations, but the 777s burn significantly more fuel on routes where fuel efficiency matters the most. UAL’s mainline strategy is premium compared to its massive 50 seat regional jet fleet but they are simply catching up to other carriers including Delta which have far fewer and higher quality regional jets.

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