United to keep extra-legroom Economy Plus, ex-Continental planes to be refitted

By John Walton, February 18 2011
United to keep extra-legroom Economy Plus, ex-Continental planes to be refitted

United will keep its Economy Plus extra-legroom seats following its merger with Continental Airlines, and will also install them on former Continental planes next year, Australian Business Traveller has learned. 

Passengers on United's trans-Pacific flights from Australia to Los Angeles and San Francisco will be pleased by the news. The seats will also be seen on the new Boeing 787 flights from Houston to Auckland once the airline's 787s are delivered from Boeing.

The extra legroom is one of the few good things about travelling in United's economy class, which even CEO Jeff Smisek admitted was "unacceptable" in comparison with other airlines' options in an interview with Australian Business Traveller.

As we reported last week, airlines from the US favour these extra-legroom seats over an improved Premium Economy cabin with fewer seats and more amenities.

United's Economy Plus provides "up to five inches" of extra legroom, although this is usually between three and four inches on the 747s that fly to Australia.

"Our customers value Economy Plus and the additional personal space that it provides," said United's Jim Compton, chief revenue officer. "Customers who sit in Economy Plus are significantly more satisfied with their travel experience."

There had been no announcement about the fate of the well-liked Economy Plus seating since the United-Continental merger, leading to concerns that the extra legroom area would be scrapped.

Frequent flyers who are elite members of the OnePass and Mileage Plus programmes will be able to select Economy Plus seats for free, and other passengers can pay a surcharge. On flights from Australia, expect to pay between A$100-150 for the extra legroom. 

All "mainline" United and Continental planes will have the new seating, which excludes some regional flights on United Express, Continental Express and Continental Connection, which fly under contract with the larger airlines. Check the aircraft on your flight: all Airbus and Boeing planes will have Economy Plus seating, but it will only be fitted to "larger regional jets".

Until the Continental planes are refitted, extra legroom is restricted to exit row and bulkhead seats. Elite members of the OnePass and Mileage Plus frequent flyer programmes can continue to book these seats with extra legroom for free, while other passengers will still have to pay for them.

Business travellers are still waiting to hear about the merged United-Continental's plans for business and first class.

At the time of merger, United had First, Business and Economy classes (plus Economy Plus extra legroom seats), whereas Continental had a combined BusinessFirst cabin and economy. The combined airline has yet to make an announcement on which layouts it's planning to keep.

Until the full rollout's complete, check out our guide showing you how to get more legroom in economy class.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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