What Not to Expect When United Upgrades You

I am wending my way to completion of my United 1K challenge, my wife has forcefully opted out of future United experiences, yet I drudge on. On Sunday I took a circuitous route back from Shanghai, I did the Pacific segments on China Southern + Delta so not to give them over to United, then a US return to NYC on United from Moline to Chicago to Los Angeles to Newark. Both Chicago-LA and LA-Newark I was upgraded and figured those as high-profile, business-heavy flights from United hubs they might get a shade better treatment than usual.

Some things to not expect when United puts you up front:

  • First class boarding ahead of the half the plane lumped in to Group 1
  • Power outlet
  • Wi-fi
  • Personal in-flight entertainment
  • A pillow (even on a midnight redeye)
  • A blanket that covers more than a small child
  • Bottled water
  • Meals (Chicago to LA at 7:51 pm had what was described as a “light snack.” Perhaps flights at some other times have meals)
  • Snacks other than pretzels
  • A stable tray
  • A seat that doesn’t droop back when sitting back
  • A seat that returns to landing position when pressing the button (I had to help the women next to me with a yank to get it back up)

And yet United flyers always fret that it is difficult to get upgrades. Hard for me to get so worked up when nearly the only difference is a wider seat. If my company or myself actually paid for this I would be livid. That’s a grim slog just to access Star Alliance partners and generous award availability.

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  • I got either wifi OR a power outlet on my United flights this month. DL/AA consistently had both.

    Surprisingly, my SFO-IAH F flight that left at 12:30am had a decent snack … not a meal, but something for a 3.5-hr redeye. I was lucky to find an LAX-EWR flight on an international 767-400ER in F and was semi-pleased with that service (3 entree choices + sundae dessert), though the same LAX-NYhub route on DL and AA has better aircraft all the time.

    Like you said, the miles are great but I don’t really want to fly United ….

    Also, at least Delta gives free snacks (including Biscoff) in coach? It’s such a small thing but didn’t get that on AA or UA.

  • Gene

    Why were you not boarded in Group 1 if you were seated in F? Group 1 includes F passengers.

  • Patrick W.

    Am I the only one who really couldn’t care less about domestic upgrades? I guess it’s because most of my travel is overseas; the only reason I chase 1K is for SWUs. Having said that, I have had several domestic upgrades this year to/from SFO and they’ve all been pleasant.

  • steve

    @Gene – he was saying they do not priority board 1st class, instead F boards with 50 other people that are 1K/Plat.

    AA gives their ExPlats a free snack in Y + Free alcohol drink.

    AA offers sundae service on Mid-con flights over 4 hours as well and their Snack service is a light meal. Power in every seat, yet to not have wifi, yet to have a mechanical delay.

    UA no sundae, crap food, crap service, no wifi most planes, snacks are literally vending machine snacks, CONSTANT delays.

    Sat next to a GS today from Dallas who said he left UA, his company spends 100K + and that’s now gone to AA.

    More proof why mergers are bad.

  • But as you point out, it is easy to get free seats with points. I guess that is ALL that matters when you fly – right? Humm… (can’t wait to talk at Chicago and compare vs Delta DM)

  • NB

    That is why United First’s proper name is Big Seat Economy.

    An English friend was flying LHR-NYC-SEA-SFO-LHR on business and was persuaded to fly UA. She had to rush from a meeting for her SEA flight (she was on a fully flexible Business Class ticket but had another meeting in SFO that afternoon). It never occured to her that there would be no food at all on a 90 minute flight up front. Needless to say, UA’s attempts to sell its services to that company have died a complete death.

  • Ed C.

    Wasn’t always like this…. but they continue to nickel and dime even to this day.

    Death by a 1K cuts …

  • @Gene – sorry I was not clear, I mean that rather than have separate boarding for first/business after military/global services, seemingly half the plane is in a Group 1 scrum to board while others jostle for the other lanes. It seems by trying to impose some order on the boarding process that they create more disorder.

  • Andy

    It’s all about the 1K awards!

  • I feel I have to defend United on this one. EWR-LAX is actually not the business route; JFK-LAX and JFK-SFO are the premium service routes. JFK-LAX is extremely nice though, of course, they are not eligible for the complimentary elite upgrades… they are the perfect free one-way add onto an international business class itinerary. 🙂

  • @The Miles Professor – I have tried that ps service a few times in paid business class and paid economy and each time were decrepit planes, though I hear they have some new planes on that route.

    Can’t argue with free one-ways however you come by them!

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