United and Continental to begin cross-fleeting

Ah, one of the most frustrating pre-merger airline practices is about to begin — cross-fleeting! That’s when a merged airline isn’t yet flying under the same operating certificate, yet they deploy planes on each others routes.

Well, all must be well in the Continental and United world, as they’ll be starting this practice pretty soon. Come February, Continental will operate a new service between Chicago and Fort Lauderdale, Chicago and West Palm Beach, and Denver and Fort Lauderdale. Now in fairness United hasn’t operated any of those routes for several years now, so it’s not that they’re directly “stealing” a route from United, but that doesn’t make the practice any less frustrating. What’s frustrating is that this route is obviously targeted at United flyers, yet Continental elites will trump United elites when it comes to upgrades, and in the meantime us United flyers won’t be earning lifetime miles, etc.

Just to be clear, I’m not picking on Continental. The same is true at United. United will start operating a daily flight between Houston and Lima on their high density 767, which otherwise flies exclusively domestically. This flight is over 3,000 miles, and this is probably the most uncomfortable aircraft in the United fleet, though there might be one slight positive. The flight is currently operated by a Continental 757 featuring 16 BusinessFirst seats, which is of course exponentially better than the aircraft United will operate on the route. However, they market the flight as a BusinessFirst route, meaning Continental elites don’t receive complimentary upgrades on this route. You have to use miles and pay a hefty co-pay to upgrade.

I’d be willing to guarantee that this flight will now be eligible for complimentary upgrades. So while this is a huge downgrade in terms of the premium product, unless you were paying for business class, this is probably an improvement as an elite (then again, I’m not convinced first class on the domestic 767 is that much better than coach on Continental’s 757s, given that they have audio and video on demand). That being said, United 1Ks and Premier Executives will still trump Continental elites on the upgrade…

I’m certainly not looking forward to more and more cases of cross-fleeting. Fortunately this should no longer be the case by the time 2012 rolls around and the airlines are under a single operating certificate with a single frequent flyer program.

Filed Under: Continental, United
  1. “Iā€™d be willing to guarantee that this flight will now be eligible for complimentary upgrades.”

    hahaha. Want to bet?

  2. Speaking of lifetime miles Lucky, will the Continental lifetime miles be added to the UA lifetime miles once the programs merge?

  3. only the miles you fly on CO using your CO FF number will count towards lifetime, and vice versa. that means, for the most of us who doesn’t have status on both airlines its still a big minus.

  4. Sam, you’re wrong about CO lifetime status. Currently all EQMs earnt count on the CO side.

    Lucky, you’re wrong about the IAH-LIM route being categorized as BusinessFirst. That went away a couple weeks ago as CO loaded the winter schedule and listed a 753 starting in December.

    If upgrade priority is still really a concern for you flying to FLL or PBI then look at it this way, at least you now CAN fly to those cities and have a chance at an upgrade. UA puled out years ago and left you with zero options. Now you have an option. ANd your initial reaction is that you don’t like your priority in the upgrade queue?? Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

  5. Wandering Aramean – well since you are a CO plat and have higher UG priority, of course you’ll think that way about lucky’s reaction.

  6. @ LIH Prem — Depends, what’s at stake? šŸ˜‰

    @ Carl — This for me is another point of frustration. On Continental, all elite miles count towards million miler, while at United, only butt in seat miles count. So the frustrating thing is that if I fly Continental metal now, not only will it not count towards my United million miler status, but I highly doubt it will count towards my combined million miler status either. That being said, I’m less worries about them changing the million miler program, since Premier Executive has essentially been “downgraded.”

    @ Andy — Excellent point.

    @ Wandering Aramean — It’s not about whether or not an upgrade clear, it’s about the fact that the priority doesn’t make sense. Why doesn’t Continental keep their planes flying out of their hubs, and United keeps their planes flying out of their hubs. I understand United currently doesn’t serve the market, but customers would be better served with United operating an A320 or A319 than a Continental plane.

  7. “Iā€™d be willing to guarantee that this flight will now be eligible for complimentary upgrades”

    Lucky, can you at least fact check yourself? Last time I checked, Lima, Peru is in South America, which is in Region 2, not Region 1. Since this is an UA flight, UDU does not apply, and either SWU or miles are required for upgrade.

    So, what’s my compensation from the gurantee? šŸ˜‰

  8. @ ptahcha –There aren’t any facts yet. I’m willing to bet, though, that UA will offer UDU to LIM. I do understand that Lima isn’t technically in region one, though!

  9. @ptahcha – use common sense. UA is not going to ask for SWUs or miles to upgrade a domestic 767 aka the “Ghetto Bird”

  10. Why would “customers” be better served by a UA A319/320 on the route? If there are no CO elites in the hub anyways then the priority doesn’t matter as all zero CO platinums will be upgraded and then all the 1Ks and 1Ps will have at the inventory. Not to mention that the 737s being used have much larger F cabins which will increase the upgrade chances.

    They’re all one big happy family now. There is no such thing as “my” hub or “your” hub. Time to accept that and realize that the only way for the airlines to actually realize all the expected benefits from the merger is to actually merge operations. This is a start. They’re putting the correct equipment on the routes that need it. Not really all that hard to understand actually.

    I agree that the priority is a bit stilted but it cuts both ways. Overall it averages out just fine and folks will do just fine. Honestly, if this the “most frustrating” thing you have to deal with in the merger you’re doing pretty darn well.

  11. @ Wandering Aramean — As long as I’m not earning lifetime miles, I’m not flying anything but former United metal. It’s easier for Continental since all EQMs count towards lifetime status. But with United, they only count flights on United metal, and I can’t imagine they’ll go back and add miles that were flown on Continental… I doubt they even have the capability of doing that!

  12. Like many others, I avoid CO like the plague due to no E+ and no UA lifetime miles. That said, I don’t mind “cross-fleeting” as defined in this post, especially on completely new routes. As long as you know in advance that the operating carrier will be CO, the trade-offs are transparent.

    But in my mind, “cross-fleeting” conjures a the specter of CO metal unexpectedly showing up on a “UA-operated” flight (which UCH legalese seems to suggest is possible) . I might still get lifetime miles with the UA flight number, but not E+ if I’m not upgraded.

  13. @Wandering Aramean – yes the “priority is a bit stilted” because as a 1K at the new airline I should trump a CO plat who flies 75K a year…simple as that šŸ˜‰

  14. @Reader

    I think it makes sense as CO does have to give priority to its own customers. Until UA/CO stop operating separately, it would be kind of insane for the CO’s top earners to not have the highest upgrade priority when flying their own airline in favor of UA 1K’s who might have never set foot on CO metal before. This is especially true when you consider the fact that many CO Plats fly more than 100k miles. As a CO Plat with 150k CO miles flown last year, it would piss me off if a UA 1K with 100k miles all on UA got upgrade priority over me on CO. It’s bad enough that UA 1Ps get priority over me on UA.

  15. @lucky if they can add Lima to Region 1, they can certainly add historical miles to lifetime miles count. (Touche!)

    @Reader re: UA not asking for SWU for domestic 767 – why not? AA uses a domestic 757 for its Bolivia flights, and you can’t use e-500’s on that route. What AA does, UA mimics.

  16. Great examples Lucky – thanks for linking to the FT threads. More nails in the coffin for those CO loyalists who continually deny the systemic TOD upgrade scheme.

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