United Airlines EconomyPlus – is it worth the extra fee?

The more seats airlines crammed into planes and the more amenities they cut to save money and offer low fares, the more there was demand for a slightly nicer economy experience. And airlines responded by introducing Premium Economy products offering more space and some of the amenities like food or pillows & blankets. How does United Airlines’ EconomyPlus product stack up and what can you expect? Is it worth paying extra for?

I have been fortunate having elite status with United for years and that allowed me to select EconomyPlus seating at booking at no charge. Anybody can purchase EconomyPlus at the time of booking or even at check-in for a fee.

Pre-departure: When planning your trip, you should\ consult the United Baggge Planner to see how much luggage you can take for free or what the charges are. In Economy Plus, you have the same allowance as Economy, which means for US domestic flights you have to pay $25 for the first bag up to 50lbs and $35 for the second. On international flights you might have 1 or 2 bags of the same weight for free. As a MileagePlus Gold flyer, I have 2 bags of up to 70lbs free, more than enough for my typical travel.
I was traveling on a rather complicated award ticket and had booked it via the call center, because the website couldn’t handle the itinerary. In general, I find United’s website to be easy to use and more powerful than many other airline sites. I picked seats and checked in online without problems.
On the three flights I’m reviewing today, I was able to use TSA Pre-Check thanks to my Global Entry membership and was through security quickly. Because United only allows lounge access for paying members or StarAlliance Gold members on international itineraries, I spent my time in the airport terminal.

Service: The gate service in each case was professional, yet unremarkable. Passengers were processed without a word – the friendly smiles or words of welcome you find on many other airlines were absent. United has one of the most complicated boarding processes, trying to manage people crowding the gate area. Economy Plus passengers do not get priority check-in or boarding, but my Gold status put me into boarding group 2 (of 5!), so I didn’t have to worry about my carry on fitting into the overhead bin.
I have been on hundreds of United flights and one of their problems over the years has been the generally less than friendly service. There is just no comparison with premium carriers like Singapore Airlines. While you might get lucky and have a wonderful crew in 1 out of 10 or 20 flights, most of the time it will be professional and in 20% of the cases, you’ll have a grumpy crew that you’d rather not have again. On all three UA flights within a month, I either was just lucky or United is working hard to improve: The flight attendants were friendly and responsive to any request, without any of the snarky comments or eyerolls I’ve come to expect. While it’s not up to Singapore standards, it was a pleasant surprise and improvement over what I’ve become used to from United!

Hard Product:
Boeing B757 PS: On transcontinental routes, like my flight from Newark to San Francisco, United flies specially configured B757. In EconomyPlus that means you have the same seats as in Economy, but with an extra 5 inch of legroom – to me at 6ft3 that makes all the difference for a more comfortable flight – and it is the only difference from flying Economy on United. You’ll also get a personal video screen with a large selection of movies and TV shows, enough to keep you entertained for a 6h flight! And, there is a USB port to charge your personal devices! There were free snacks and drinks, meals and alcoholic drinks were available for purchase.
UA EcoPlus SeatAirbus A320: My second flight of this trip was on a newly configured A320 – and “new” these days is not necessarily a good thing. In this case, United decided to cram in more “slimline” seats. While these seats are a little wider than on the Boeing planes, they are very thinly padded and uncomfortable for long flights. The EconomyPlus has the same extra legroom, which is a lifesaver for me! There are no individual video screens and the promised WiFi onboard wasn’t working. If you appreciate a slightly wider seat, this might work for you. I found the new seats to be uncomfortable and would avoid the new United A320 if given a choice.
UA EcoPlus ScreenB737-900: United’s B737-900 is configured for longer routes and has slightly more comfortable seats (if narrower than on the Airbus) and with the same extra legroom in EconomyPlus. There is a personal video screen with movies and TV on demand at every seat, making a longer flight more enjoyable.

Conclusion: United’s EconomyPlus is not a real Premium Economy class like you find on other airlines. It’s the same seat with up to 5 inch of extra legroom and that’s it! Because I’m so tall, I’m grateful for the extra legroom and happy to choose those seats at no extra charge. Unfortunately, the rest of the Economy experience on United is not great. The service was better on these flights than what I’m used to, but I’m pretty sure those grumpy flight attendants are still out there, making the service a hit and miss. I’m glad to see United finally rolling out some entertainment choices in Economy, at least on longer flights. Unfortunately, there are still international flights without personal video screens, like the long-haul Boeing B747, so the EconomyPlus experience can be dreadful on long flights.

Overall, if you are fortunate enough to have access to EconomyPlus for free, it’s a no-brainer and you should choose those seats. If you are faced with a charge for the seats, it depends on your needs. If you are as tall as me, it might be worth the extra fee for a little more legroom. But especially on international flights, make sure to check your plane configuration before purchasing and compare it with other airline prices. United’s EconomyPlus is a far cry from Singapore Airline’s or Lufthansa’s Premium Economy and and even their Economy product can be a much better experience than United EconomyPlus, so be careful before you spend the extra money on what is still a very much mediocre Economy experience!

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