Premium Service on United Airlines: Two Classes of Service Instead of Three

Passengers will miss the 14 feet of legroom in part of the old premium service configuration, as shown in this photograph by FlyerTalk member DELee.

It seemed like only yesterday that United Airlines attempted to bring back the golden age of domestic air travel in the United States when it announced its new premium service — or p.s. — back in 2004 on its transcontinental flights between New York and either San Francisco or Los Angeles, complete with three classes of service, meal service and plenty of room for all passengers in all cabins, and all seats equipped with outlets for plugging in your electronics.
But like other initiatives to improve the quality of flight — such as More Room Throughout Coach on American Airlines, which gave extra legroom to economy class passengers but was ironically eliminated entirely just as United Airlines announced its new p.s. service — some features and amenities of the premium service offered by United Airlines on those transcontinental flights are being reconfigured or eliminated, according to FlyerTalk member UA Insider — also known as Aaron Goldberg, who is the senior manager of Customer Experience Planning at United Airlines.
“This first aircraft to be reconfigured is already in modification and will take to the skies by March”, posted Goldberg. “Over the subsequent 8-9 months we will complete the transition, but during this period, there will be a mix of B757 aircraft flying on these routes. Since the configurations are very different, we will be taking some steps to ease us through the transition and minimize the impact of aircraft changes.”
Here are some of the highlights:
  • All p.s. flights will operate as two-cabin regardless of actual configuration starting on June 6, 2013. By the summer, United Airlines expects to have already reconfigured several Boeing 757 aircraft. However, in order to minimize the impact of unexpected substitutions, United Airlines will only sell p.s. flights as two-cabin.
    • Seats in the former United First cabin are reserved for customers who had previously booked in United First, as well as Premier members who are already confirmed in United Business. Specifically, Global Services, Premier 1K, Premier Platinum and Premier Gold members can select one of these seats at any time if available, and Premier Silver members will have access to them at check-in. Note that during the transition, these seats will be branded as United Business, rather than United First. Nearer to the end of the reconfiguration process, United Airlines will start marketing the premium cabin on all aircraft as United BusinessFirst.
  • The best way to know if you are going to be a passenger on a newly-configured aircraft is to look at the seat map on the official Internet web site of United Airlines, which will display 28 seats in United Business — subject to change, of course. Seat maps will generally reflect the older configuration until a few months before departure, when United Airlines will start to have a better idea of what kind of aircraft will be scheduled for a specific flight.
  • The Global First Lounge at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York is scheduled to remain open after June 6, 2013, welcoming Global Services members seated in United Business on p.s. flights, as well as customers on connecting United Global First itineraries.
  • Upgrade policies are the same, as you can still request an upgrade on p.s. using RPUs, GPUs and award miles. The co-pay for Premier members requesting MileagePlus Upgrade Awards will continue to be waived.

Compare the features of the premium service offered in 2004 as compared to today:


  • Thirteen Boeing 757 aircraft will be outfitted with 110 seats
    • 12 seats in first class
    • 26 seats in business class
    • 72 seats in economy class
  • Handheld personal DVD players provided to first and business class customers with choices of ten films
  • All economy class seats are Economy Plus
  • All seats with laptop plug-ins
  • International starndard menu for all three cabins
  • First class seats with a 68″ seat pitch lay flat; business class seats with a 54″ seat pitch, and Economy Plus seats with a 34″ seat pitch


  • Boeing 757 aircraft will be outfitted with 142 seats
    • 28 seats in United BusinessFirst with 180-degree flat-bed seats
    • 48 seats in Economy Plus with even more legroom than before — 36 inches
    • 66 seats in economy class
  • Complimentary in-seat audio video on-demand entertainment
  • USB and standard 110v power outlets accessible from every seat
  • Gogo Wi-Fi — and coming later this year: connection speeds up to three times faster

…so there is no more first class cabin service, 32 additional seats on each aircraft, and 66 seats in the economy class cabin are standard coach seats instead of Economy Plus. However, there will be faster Internet service, as well as complimentary in-flight entertainment for presumably every passenger and lie-flat seats in the business class cabin along with extra room in the Economy Plus seats — so the reconfiguration is not a complete all-out downgrade of service.
It is uncertain at this time whether or not the food served in the business class cabin will be improved — but I see no confirmation at this time that economy class passengers will still be served meals.
The transition is expected to be completed within the next nine months or so.
Some FlyerTalk members now believe that the term premium service is now a misnomer with the reconfiguration, as they mourn the loss of the original premium service configuration — while others are looking forward to trying out the new premium service configuration.
Time will tell as to how FlyerTalk members will react once they try out the new premium service configuration.

  1. I’m going to miss the classic p.s. service. I finally tried United First p.s. in January, even if the hard product is a bit outdated it was a comfortable ride for a five hour transcon and not a bad value for 50k US Airways miles. Too bad UA is phasing in the new product just as US is leaving Star Alliance – though I’m looking forward trying American’s new Flagship transcon service in C and F later this year once AAdvantage and Dividend Miles merge.

  2. Welcome to the new Untied where customer service is gone. Use a kiosk, use a slow website, and never get an upgrade as a 1K million mile flier. All of the good aspects of United are going away after the merger. What a shame!

  3. Typical since the merger. Higher fares, even worse service (if that’s possible). Premium customers be damned. I remember the first PS flights. Wow! Sit down and there’s your freshly made bellini . Anybody remember People’s Express from the 80’s? Well, welcome to the new United.

  4. I have nearly 3mm miles on UA and I have to agree that the service has gone down hill. No one seems to care. Oh they say the do, but I haven’t seen too much of it. SFO is dreadful and I try to avoid it. UA seems to be concerned, and rightfully so, why higher-end business travelers are flying UA less. I fly every week and can choose my airlines. After being frustrated with UA, just recently I flew DL to Europe for a business meeting. Their premium product is as good if not better, but with nicer people. Now PS is going away.

  5. I flew a Garuda flight around year 2000 which had that same ridiculous 14 feet of legroom in front of my seat. Actually felt a bit uncomfortable having all that space!

  6. Esteve2. There was no such airline as People’s Express. It was PEOPLExpress, which merged into Continental in 1987. Ironically, it’s now called United. So technically, the old PEOPLExpress is now called United.

  7. Gee how unexpected that United (gotta love mergers)
    destroyed what was left of a first class premium cabin
    Seems similar to the old Contiental business model business first which was sucky with legs angled downwards
    Why it’s almost as if Continental folks are running United ;!
    Sure glad American will welcome full fare revenue customers with a true first class product
    United is an ick airline
    VIPs and full fare customers and mileage redemption customers will be flocking to the new American
    Just another great reason to stay away from United besides poor award seat availability
    United ruled in the 90s and shortly after 911 but it wasn’t long before the airline went into a tailspin and never recovered
    Here’s to hoping United isn’t as crappy as I perceive .I will say first class beds don’t work on a 757 anyway
    The old 767s united flew years ago were superior in every way
    I continue to enjoy these on American until the new First class product roles out

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