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What is it like to fly United p.s. Premium Service?

September 11, 2015
United Economy Seats (screenshot)

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United Economy Seats (screenshot)

United Economy Seats (screenshot)

I hadn’t realized there was anything particularly special about our United Flight 512 from New York’s JFK to SFO in San Francisco until I overheard a frequent flyer across the aisle (who travels the route each week) tell his companion that we were on a United p.s. flight.

United p.s. stands for Premium Service, which has apparently been around since 2004 although significant upgrades have been made since then. There are currently 15 p.s. planes in the United fleet, limited to coast-to-coast routes between NYC and both Los Angeles and San Francisco. The planes offer two classes of service, BusinessFirst and Economy.

Some of the p.s. upgrades described on the United site include:

  • Refreshed interiors
  • Added legroom
  • Complimentary seat-back entertainment in all seats
  • Power outlets and USB ports throughout the aircraft
  • Availability of Gogo® Wi-Fi service

We were seated in the Economy section of the Boeing 757 (which has a 3+3 configuration) and had purchased Economy Plus seats (with extra legroom).

Admittedly, our upholstered seats did look less worn than usual and the plastic tray tables seemed cleaner. Our Economy Plus seats offered a comfortable 36” pitch with a 7” recline, 5” more pitch and 2” more recline than regular Economy ones that have almost gotten unbearable on long flights. Electronic/tech upgrades were nice, too, but you had to bring your own earbuds to take advantage of the entertainment system or pay for them on board. The Gogo® Wi-Fi service was also at an additional charge (although a limited number of free passes are available as a benefit if you own an American Express Platinum Card).

Clearly, the major advantage of p.s. service is the BusinessFirst cabin with 180-degree flat-bed seats, similar to the ones available on transcontinental flights. However, these seats come at a significant cost—more than double the price of an Economy seat (more than $2000 for a round-trip between NY and CA). Moreover, according to my seatmate source, even when they are available, fliers with Premier status aren’t given free upgrades to those seats; they either need to pay for an upgrade with miles or cash.

In case you were wondering, there wasn’t any meal service on the six-hour p.s. flight and snacks were available only for purchase. Soft drinks, juices, tea and coffee were complimentary.

This past June, United announced that it would be transferring all p.s. operations from JFK to Newark Liberty International Airport, which will lessen the odds of us flying on one of these flights but enable international passengers using the Newark hub to continue on to the West Coast on these flights.

The Bottom Line

Air travel has gotten onerous because from the vantage point of the consumer, costs are increasing and services are diminishing while airline profits are soaring. Simultaneously, the gap between various classes of service is growing wider. United p.s. only represents an incremental improvement over the status quo .


Another kind of P.S. – While it was nice to have an electrical outlet, its placement underneath the seat was almost impossible to reach and/or find. When I was finally successful finding it and plugging in the power supply from my computer using a flashlight, I discovered that it wasn’t working.


Also on More Time To Travel:


In the Trades: United Reveals New Aircraft Interiors As If Nothing Else is Happening (Skift 9/11/15)

And the grass isn’t any greener at Delta: Could Coach Get Any Worse? Delta found a new class of fares

  • Reply
    Catherine Sweeney
    September 14, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    I flew United p.s. (economy) several times in the mid-2000s. I don’t recall there being anything particularly “premium” about it, but back then we might have gotten something to eat! Not sure. I wonder what changes might come about at United with the recent management shake up. I become less hopeful about positive changes to airline travel as time goes on.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 22, 2015 at 10:47 am

      I sure hope the new leadership at United changes the game!

  • Reply
    Rachel Heller
    September 15, 2015 at 1:13 am

    Here in Holland, anyone flying to the US avoids United Airlines if it’s at all possible. It’s got a rep for poor service. And what you just described confirms that! A six-hour flight on a non-budget airline without food service included? Your economy plus seats sound only marginally better than regular economy, so the regular economy of this P.S. service is the equivalent of a manufacturer adding a “new and improved” label on a bottle of shampoo without actually changing the shampoo!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 15, 2015 at 9:32 am

      We fly United often and the service is hit and miss. I’m hoping the new leadership will turn things around and make the airline more consumer friendly. Right now, there’s a surfeit of questionnaires after every flight with little change or feedback. Also, many perfunctory thank yous while you are on board.

  • Reply
    Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru
    September 20, 2015 at 11:28 pm

    Your summation says it all. This Emperor has no clothes! We were underwhelmed the last time we flew United Airlines, as well.

  • Reply
    Paula McInerney
    September 21, 2015 at 1:36 am

    Oh my. We are flying from Sydney to the States on United Airlines and have some internal flights too, because they were cheap. But then again we have been underwhelmed by some big name ones with good reputations but arrogant service. I will look out for whether it is a ps one.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 21, 2015 at 10:58 am

      One problem as I see it is that the distance between first class and the seats behind seems to be getting greater and greater.

  • Reply
    Suzanne Stavert
    September 21, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    We are American Airlines frequent flyers. Although we are generally very happy, there have been several times that the plugs did not work. Consequently, my husband wrote them an email and was it not only promptly answered, but he was given a phone call as well.

  • Reply
    Nancie
    September 22, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    I have this vision in my head of you trying to find that plug. You have to wonder what the designers/engineers are thinking when they do things like this. Obviously, they have never been contained in a small space for hours wanting to use an electronic device! The meal service, or lack of it, doesn’t exactly fit my definition of premium service. I’ve only flown United once, and that was part of a leg between Nova Scotia and Seoul, and a very short leg. I boarded in Japan for the less than 2 hour flight. I actually did receive an upgrade to business, so it was a nice way to end a very long flight.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 23, 2015 at 8:44 am

      An upgrade is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

  • Reply
    Michele Peterson ( A Taste for Travel)
    September 23, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    Good info to know about United P S Premium service. I’m not sure it would be worth the extra money for me for the extra leg room but six hours is at the borderline point where I do begin to wish the flight would just be over ( unless of course I’m in Business Class ..in which case fly on!) I just flew KLM regular economy to Greece and it was pretty miserable because there was a power system under the seat in front that took up the leg room

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 24, 2015 at 9:43 pm

      I always worry about legroom on long-haul flights because I’m afraid of getting DVT.

  • Reply
    The GypsyNesters
    September 24, 2015 at 7:47 am

    Seems like the age and condition of the planes we fly varies widely even on the same airline. Often even on the same routes. I’m not sure we would even notice this “premium” service.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 24, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      I try to check out types of planes with SeatGuru but that only helps a bit…

  • Reply
    Patti Morrow
    September 24, 2015 at 11:36 am

    Air travel has gotten to be such a pain! United is definitely not my favorite airline, but I haven’t tried the premium service. Not sure it’s worth the extra $$$ — it could really add up with so many flights to take!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 24, 2015 at 8:55 pm

      Unfortunately, there are few good choices for the economy traveler! JetBlue is one of my favorites.

  • Reply
    Sue Reddel
    September 24, 2015 at 11:46 am

    You’re so right. Domestic US air travel has become so uncomfortable and costly. I’m lucky to have status on most of the airlines I use otherwise it would be unbearable. And couldn’t agree with you more on the “free” electrical plug it’s always hard to reach and doesn’t always work. I know we sound like a bunch of whiners but if you offer this service shouldn’t it at least work? PS sounds like BS to me.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 24, 2015 at 9:01 pm

      Next time I might dare to ask a flight attendant to plug it in for me:-)

  • Reply
    Denis Gagnon
    September 24, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    Thanks for the insight on the United ps flights. Since we live in the Washington Dc area, a United Airlines hub, we fly that airline fairly regularly but have never experienced the ps service. It would seem that we are not missing out on much!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 24, 2015 at 9:06 pm

      Yes, I think it is only on the planes that fly coast-to-coast (long-haul).

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