Scott O’Leary posted on Milepoint (and, I’m guessing, on Flyertalk as well) that United will be keeping Economy Plus and will be adding it to the Continental fleet ‘beginning in 2012′.
This is a big sigh of relief, though not unexpected. While it was certainly going to be a ground up review, and Continental’s management was going to make a decision based on whether they thought economy plus would drive incremental revenue compared to having the additional seats in coach to sell, United has gotten quite adept at upselling passengers for these seats and economy plus unquestionably drives product differentiation and consumer choice at the low and mid-tier elite levels. A United Premier flying 25,000 miles a year doesn’t see the front cabin very often, but is better off in back on United with extra legroom than on other carriers.
Now, it should be said that they haven’t decided whether Premiers (and Continental Silvers) will keep advance access to economy plus going forward.
Currently, all United and Continetal elites get economy plus access on United. Continental only gives Golds (and Premier Executives) and above access to preferred coach seating in advance, which isn’t as meaningful a benefit as economy plus. For Premiers and Silvers it’s catch as catch can at the airport. They’ll take one method or the other going forward, and seem not to have made that decision yet.
They’ve also not decided yet whether to remove a row of coach or a row of first class in order to get the extra legroom on the Continental planes, it’ll probably come from coach on some aircraft and first class on others, and the particulars remain to be announced. Of course I’m always disappointed to see any first class seats go (and with them, chances of upgrades) but on the whole still think this is a good decision for customers and for elites.
We’ll also still need to see what happens to the international three-cabin first class product, that hasn’t been announced yet, I still assume they’ll keep it on a limited set of routes. Continetnal offers coach and business class, United offers coach and business and first. They certainly won’t go three-cabin on all flights. Continental employs a strategy of flying low density routes from its Newark hub using 757s. They’re not going to fly Newark – Manchester offering an international first class product. And there are certainly some United routes where selling three-cabin first probably doesn’t make business sense, such as San Francisco – Osaka and Seattle – Tokyo. United’s international first is also really a business class product with a better seat anyway. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it offered on fewer routes but with somewhat upgraded amentiies — it makes sense to offer, I think, on the Sydney and Hong Kong routes for instance.