In January, United revealed internally that they’d be introducing premium economy on select international flights. The new cabin will be called Premium Plus, and will offer “more space, comfort and amenities.” United said that this product would be introduced later this year, though we haven’t heard anything more in the nearly two months since that initial announcement was made.
Interestingly United’s president, Scott Kirby, mentioned premium economy at an investor conference yesterday, though it wasn’t in the context of international flights. Rather, he revealed that United is considering adding premium economy on domestic flights, and that they “look forward to announcing that, if [they] can get a great product at some point.”
What did Kirby mean by this? Could United really be considering adding a premium economy cabin on domestic routes? No way.
The simple reason that a true premium economy product doesn’t work on domestic flights is because the international premium economy experience is virtually the same as the domestic first class experience. Take American, for example, which was the first US global airline to introduce premium economy. Their premium economy seat on international flights is the same as what they use for first class on domestic flights. The catering is similar as well.
With airlines shrinking the size of first class cabins, and with the price difference between first class and economy shrinking as well, the market for something like this seems limited.
In my opinion there’s no way United would add wider seats as part of a premium economy experience on domestic flights.
What could Kirby have meant, then? My guess is that by “premium economy” on domestic flights he’s referring to better branding their current Economy Plus offering. United was the first global US carrier to offer an extra legroom economy section. Both American and Delta have matched that in the meantime, with Main Cabin Extra and Comfort+, respectively.
But United has been overtaken by both of them. All three airlines offer an extra legroom economy section, though:
- Delta offers complimentary alcoholic drinks and snacks in Comfort+
- As of this spring, American is introducing free alcohol in Main Cabin Extra
My guess is that any “premium economy” product that United would introduce would come in the form of adding services to their existing Economy Plus section and rebranding it. Maybe they’ll add free alcoholic drinks, maybe they’ll add free snacks, and maybe they’ll add something beyond that (pillows, blankets, meals, etc.). Who knows.
But I just don’t see United introducing a more spacious premium product on domestic flights. They have enough trouble reconfiguring international planes, so I can’t imagine they’d start the ambitious project of reconfiguring domestic planes with a new type of seat as well.
Does anyone have a different take on this, and think United could introduce a more spacious premium economy product on domestic flights?
(Tip of the hat to TravelinWilly)