I Flew United Again.. and Liked It!

I flew American into Mobile, Alabama. But to stick with them for the return I’d have had to spend an extra 3 hours in the airport. That’s way too much time to spend in the MAA Executive Lounge.

There were Delta options, but they were at least 50% more expensive.

Now, I made a point not to fly United as the actual merger of operations with Continental approached at the beginning of 2012.

I’ve flown mostly American, and that’s worked out great for me. American was providing the best value for a top tier elite in my view, especially during its bankruptcy. And once I started flying American, I wouldn’t go back to an airline without inflight wifi.

I’ve flown other carriers, of course, but it just never happened to be United. So I was pretty excited to fly with them.

After a single one-way connecting trip through Houston I don’t claim to be any sort of an expert, but a few observations:

  • There were only 2 check-in kiosks in Mobile, and one wasn’t working. There was only one employee working the check-in counter.
  • Those kiosks have an interminable number of screens! It prompts for a phone number or email address. The person in front of me, using the kiosk in German, took about 5 minutes to figure out how to get through that screen.
  • My flights left on time. I arrived in Houston 5 minutes early at a regional jet gate in terminal B.
  • It’s sure a trek from B to C, a lot of walking to get to the train that takes you between terminals, and then a lot of walking to a gate at the far end of a pier. Everything may be bigger in Texas, but the train at DFW has more stops strategically located so there’s far less walking.
  • I was surprised to find wifi onboard. I know United has made quick progress, but I didn’t expect to actually have it.
  • The A320 cabin with slimline seats is actually really attractive. After a long day of work and a connection from an Embraer 145 regional jet, they’re not especially comfortable.
  • I often say I don’t mind coach at all, but that’s extra legroom seating. I had plenty of legroom, just not enough to work very effectively.
  • I wasn’t going to pay $44 for economy plus or $108 for a first class buy up on a flight scheduled at less than an hour. What happened to Tens of Dollars upgrades? 🙂

While there was no material benefit to me of Star Alliance Gold status on this trip — I cleared security in Mobile, with ‘expedited screening’ in lieu of PreCheck thanks to Global Entry and I wasn’t checking bags, and didn’t need early boarding because I had only my laptop bag for the one night trip so didn’t need overhead space — I decided to use my Aegean account because though I’d earn relatively few miles, Aegean does inactivate accounts without flight activity. I have awhile before that happens (I’ll have to get downgraded from Gold status at the end of the year first) but the tradeoff to credit there wasn’t great.

I had two on-time flights, with friendly crew and captains that made engaging announcements. Which for short domestic flights is all I can ask for.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I am also 99% American (or Alaska) and I flew United once last year and found a few things really strange. What’s with the IFE advertisements that run on a 2 minute loop for the entire length of the flight? Why continue running advertisements for the IFE, encouraging card swipes, when the plane is on final approach? After 45-60 minutes how about stopping with the bright flash graphics for $9.99 IFE access. Their seatbacks look like a Vegas slot machine.

    The flight attendants were more interested in talking to one another than any crew I’ve ever seen. They had a couple non-rev colleagues in the first row of coach and spent about approximately 40% of the flight talking to them, with their screens running ads for 2.5 hours.

  2. When it comes to The legacy carriers on domestic routes, it’s been my experience that there’s more variation in hard & soft product *within* airlines than between airlines.

  3. I’ve never seen this issue so that must have been a malfunction of your screens… normally if you dimm the brightness enough it shuts off the screens

  4. …but yes, United is not worse than the other big airlines in the US. They just got so much bad press during the merger. My experiences on US Air and American have been largely much worse. I know Delta runs a pretty good operation but as we all know there are plenty of bad things to say about them too.

  5. Gary, a post about best strategy going forward due to the changes with Aegean Gold qualification would be appreciated!

  6. Congratulations (seriously) to being one of the last bloggers left who doesn’t immediately implode when they fly coach (gasp!). The lineup of bloggers who expect to fly F at all times and seem incapable of dealing with flying in Y has become hysterical. Especially considerig that many if not most fly exclusively on el cheapo or mistake fares.

    I seriously thank you for shining a slightly different light on flying Y…namely that it can actually be just fine.

  7. I’ve flown on the four legacies and Frontier over the last 18 months, and have found that…they’re all pretty much the same. I’ve flown on United the most in that time because the tend to have the best fares between OMA and MKE (plus plenty of availability straight from ORD), and they’re just as unspectacular-but-solid as every other airline. I had a lull in flying between 2001 and 2013, so I didn’t get to experience the merger problems, but things are just fine now.

  8. Gary,

    Love your newsletters, especially the credit card recommendations. What I find less useful personally is that you are a American flyer and I am stuck with United/Star Alliance. Is there ‘guru’ who blogs specifically about Mileage Plus ?

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