United Airlines Uses Cars To Explain Why Passengers Can’t Sit In Empty Economy Plus Seats

United Airlines has won the internet. Yesterday, when a passenger complained via Twitter about his seat, United’s customer service reps came up with just the best response. Here’s what happened.

United Airlines does not take criticism lying down. Photo: United Airlines


What happened?

United Airlines has used the power of social media to express a good point well made. The Points Guy reports that a customer by the name of Krunal Patel was aboard a United Airlines domestic flight when he contacted them via Twitter in order to complain about his seating arrangements.


Patel was evidently unhappy about the fact that he wasn’t simply able to move to an unoccupied row for free. Of course, it is not uncommon for airlines to offer free upgrades on flights that aren’t fully occupied, but that’s at their own discretion and not because someone’s having a moan.


United Airlines was adamant that the decision taken was a fair one, and explained to Patel precisely why he had been denied free access to these seats.

Unperturbed by this explanation, Patel continued to badger United Airlines for an upgrade, pointing out that the seats weren’t been used, and indeed wouldn’t and couldn’t be used.

But this didn’t persuade United Airlines, who went on to explain that the passengers who had paid for Economy Plus were benefiting from the empty space. In fact, the airline went a step further, using an interesting car analogy to firmly illustrate the situation.

While the discussion has garnered a fair bit of attention on social media, this issue perhaps illustrates how separating economy class into different levels of service has caused some controversy.

Class divide

Having seats of different levels within the same cabin can naturally be confusing for passengers. While there is a clear demarcation between economy and business, the different levels of economy service are, arguably, not as apparent. This can mean that some passengers believe that they should be able to move between them unimpeded.

United economy plus
United’s Economy Plus is for paying passengers only. Photo: United

However, it’s also understandable that a carrier such as United Airlines would require people to pay for premium coach seats, and wouldn’t just allow a passenger to upgrade for free because seats are empty. This would obviously send out completely the wrong message on several levels, so the position of the airline is perfectly reasonable.

In fact, it could be argued that the somewhat confrontational attitude of the passenger, in this case, was unnecessary. But, even if he had been more courteous, the outcome would likely have still been the same.

Grey area

However, airlines do also create something of a grey area by enabling loyal customers to upgrade for free on some flights. This is one of the perks of frequent flyer programs, which enable those purchasing economy tickets to upgrade when open seats are available. Of course, airlines have every right to do this in order to reward those that fly regularly, but it can seem unfair to other passengers being treated differently on the same flight, or in the same situation.

united 787
While an upgrade can be nice, it should never be assumed. Photo: United

Nonetheless, it seems that this particular customer had purchased an economy ticket, hoping to be upgraded, not seemingly realizing that this is far from guaranteed.

Do you sympathize with the airline or the passenger in this situation? Let us know in the comments.


Leave a Reply

177 Comment threads
96 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
219 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted

One time, we were offered an upgrade by an employee who had just had a difficult time with the passenger before us. I felt sad for him, so when it came time to be helped, I smiled, spoke kindly and called him by name. He responded to my question and asked if I would take a seat for a few minutes. In about five minutes he motioned for me to come back. He had changed our seat assignment. My husband and I were so surprised to be seated in first class! We have been in the ministry all our working… Read more »

Reverend Rick

Yes Kathie! The airline’s front line employees, who do not make the policies people hate but are tasked to enforce them, are often beat up by passengers. I call these passengers the rookies – people who rarely or never fly and don’t realize that discomfort is just part of the deal. It is much easier to go with the flow and always treat people respectfully. These folks have some of the hardest jobs. Be nice for kindness sake. If you are not immediately rewarded like Kathie was, it will come back to you in other ways. Bread cast upon the… Read more »

Joseph Montes

All airliners are thieves! First they reduced the size of sits, then they reduced the space between sits, then they brought back the original size sits at extra cost. Then when fuel price goes up they charge you more, and when fuel gets cheaper they increase their lobby money to congress people so they ignore customer’s rights. You voted for “business people” in government, you got what you asked!

William Howard Benson

I don’t like use of the word thieves but I tend to agree with this poster in spirit, despite those who have given him minuses. However the decent thing to do Joseph Montes would have been to start your own thread instead of disrespecting Katie.

James Dugan

Mr. Montes, I believe you meant seats…not sits. You SIT in a SEAT. Second, when the cost of fuel goes up, the tickets will also. This is called the cost of doing business. I do believe you need to go back to college and revisit ‘Business 101’, then take 4th Grade Level English and Spelling. Also, the seats were reduced in size to accommodate more travelers than history has ever seen. The alternative would be to buy more planes and when a Boeing 787 costs 280 Million Dollars, then you would see the cost of a coach ticket double to… Read more »

Joel Kilpatrick bartholomew

Weak brown nosers like u r the reason big business treats us like sheep.. U r petty and ignore the big issues. Ur stoopid and yeah I spelled it wrung:)))

Jim Houck

Please respond to the issue that when fuel prices go down, those ticket prices do not.


The seat widths have not been changed. The aircraft are the same width they have always been. For instance, the 737 has not changed the diameter of the fuselage since it came out in 1967, and has always had a 3+3 configuration. Additionally, if you add in inflation, flying has absolutely never been cheaper, EVER.


True, air fares have never been cheaper. Nor has air travel ever been more uncomfortable, or frustrating to the average flyer.

Gilberto Velasquez

Business people in government has nothing to do with airlines. Airlines are for-profit corporations. If you want to sit in bigger seats, pay for those seats. The dimensions are labeled on the website, you can also use FlightAware to determine the layout of the cabin and the seat sizes. I am not sure about how your fuel charge argument syncs with lobbying, etc. – but the fact is if you want the perks, you need to be a dedicated customer to an airline. The folks that use cheap-o air ticket sites suffer the most because you end up getting nickel-and-dimed… Read more »

Mike Schwager

This is just silly. When I can fly to Denver from Chicago for 100 bucks per person in 2019, I’ll take it. The airline prices are just so much lower than they were in the 80’s it’s incredible. Don’t like it? Fly first class. There you can pay the premium and be happy as a clam. But the flying public has spoken: Cheaper tickets. And the airlines have responded.

Rexford Dundon

No one forces you to fly (unless your in the military, then yeah, you follow orders) but as a civilian you’re not forced to get on board a commercial airliner.

Infrequent Flyer

Better yet just don’t fly. A good day ruined.


i would take a train anyday over flight, and last choice would be united.
i wish we had cross continental bullet trains.

Rexford Dundon

I don’t wish to pay 10K for a train like that.. (and imagine all the stops it would have to make)


The airline is right, but I also sympathize with the passenger. United has become so terrible in economy they make spirit look luxurious. The last time I was forced to fly United, it was terrible. The pitch was so bad the guy in front of me almost hit me in the face with the seat without even reclining. Just the bit of flex in to seatback.


So buy a better ticket dumbass.


I’m always amazed at how rude people can be online, such as in comment sections like this, just because they can hide behind their anonymity. I’m sure that if Andrew met someone in person and disagreed with them, he would never call them a “dumbass” so casually. Yet online, rudeness is free, so why not indulge in it? Sad where we’ve gotten to, as a society.


Yeah exactly, why not indulge in it? I personally have yet to hear a good reason.


well, you just come across like the person who cuts people off in traffic, dumps yr trash out the window of yr car, bumps into folks without a hint of condolence. hope that works out for you in your freedom to “indulge”


You’re free to be as much of a loser as you want. Nobody else will like you but you’re probably used to that.


you wouldnt recognize one if you heard it..


Thank you Andrew, I doubt Matt has even flown on United!
I fly United all the time and there is no way an unreclined seat could hit someone in the face, unless you were a dumbass and leaning forward!


I assume you have never flown with spirit because if you believe United is making “spirit look luxurious” then you dont know what your talking about… but the differences are shrinking


I’ve flown both and they are both horrible. United has grown ay worse and I would say that they are at the same level nowadays.


It’s called hyperbole. I made an exaggeration to state a point about how bad United has become. Not being hyperbolic, their 737s designated for shorter routes are as bad as Spirit if not worse.


Yeah, I used to fly exclusively on United, but now they are the worst. I will NEVER fly United or Spirit (for that matter) EVER again. I would rather have a 10 hour layover than go with a cheaper direct flight through united or spirit.

James Dugan

I have to agree with the airline as well, and their analogy was well stated. If you do pay extra for a better seating arrangement, then it is completely unfair for someone else to be seated in an equivalent seat simply because they’re being loud and mouthy…sounds more like a spoiled child stomping their feet on the ground until they get what they want. Not cool. Matt, as you stated (and as I have experienced, as well) economy seating is very tight, and getting worse. I think from both of our experiences in coach, that springing the extra bucks isn’t… Read more »


A better analogy would be renting cars rather buying the cars themselves. Seats going empty will not earn extra revenue when the flight takes off. The Lexus can be sold and is not dead inventory, United’s analogy is actually pretty bad.
Hertz may allow you to take a one level vehicle upgrade if it has a lot of cars standing idle in the lot and sees no sign of them getting rented out. The discretion is entirely theirs and they will obviously do it for repeat/loyal customers.


I will say this again – fly one carrier, stay loyal, pay for seat upgrades if you must. Your life, on any airline, gets better. It’s really that simple


He paid economy, he will remain in economy. Don’t create expectations, it happened to me once, after it was explained to me by the crew I understood, I did not pay for the extra service, move back to your original seats.


It was explained to Mr. Patel too, he accepted and that is why he has lamented on Twitter. A better way than creating a situation on the Aircraft. What is wrong with us?


Of course I sympathize with the airline. If there was even a single Economy Plus passenger they were thrilled to have been separated by 7 empty rows from the sweaty, grumbling masses. And even if there weren’t any Economy Plus passengers, don’t you think that whoever was sat near Mr. Patel was thinking next time it might be worth springing for the upgrade?

Robert G Pope

I agree with UA.


Simple, let passe ngers pay if they want


The customer sounds arrogant and entitled. UA is logical and correct on all points.


UA may be logical and correct but as you read this thread there is a clear problem with UA service in general and they may want to readjust some aspect of their business to stop comparisons with Spirit and other bottom rung transport companies.


There is no problem with UA – they were in the right all the way. He paid for the lowest form of ticket. What was he expecting?

Ferdinand Stout

The idea of a policy of having an unfilled ‘premium’ seat in economy stay empty after the cabin door is shut is beyond belief. One Very good recent example as to why the US market needs more competition. Let foreign carriers fly domestic routs and see how long arrogant crap like this lasts!

Joanna Bailey

But how would you deal with the other 100+ economy passengers who also want to sit in a premium seat then?


offer passengers the option to pay on the spot.

Rick R

They will take your money on the spot if you want to upgrade.


They can pay for the upgrade on the spot. United offers that option. Mr. Patel had the opportunity to pay for the upgrade right then and there.


United does.
If you want to upgrade the FAs have an app that lets you. Hand over your credit card and you can sit in E+.


Many of them do.

Gate agent

They do


You pay for the seat you have. You pick the location and if there are seats empty you didn’t pick those. Airlines are not Burger King you can’t have it your way! Airplanes are not restaurants you can just move to a empty table. You want to sit somewhere else do it before you board or sit down and enjoy your seat you paid for please!


So the airline should just soak up the cost of the perks that go with the seating? Premium economy often gets the same meals and such that are served in first or business class. Free upgrades incur higher costs which would drive up the price of economy tickets. If you want better seats and service pay for it yourself and stop expecting everyone else to cover the cost for you.

Rick R

If we allow foreign carriers that are government subsidized it wouldn’t be long before we create more
unemployment here.

Joseph belou

Try asking for better seats at a concert or sporting event, and see what happens.

Don Tepper

Yes, but a lot of those folks don’t ask. They just take, risking being caught. Example: My son’s an amateur MMA fighter. Let’s say the ticket prices are $40 for unreserved seats farthest from the cage. Then there are $50 reserved seats closer to the cage, and $65 reserved seats closest to the cage. Because my son is fighting, I’ll reserve the closest $65 seat possible. But folks in the $40 seats will wait until the fights begin, scout out the better, closer, reserved seats, and then just move forward. Rarely is it for just one fight in which their… Read more »


You think they should fill up all the first class and business class seats too? If you want all the seats to be the same then you can fly Southwest.


Love Southwest…..just saying the have gotten it right.


The ‘foreign carriers’ won’t let you take what you haven’t paid for either. Not a single one.


I’ve been flying about five decades now and this is the only time I have experienced passengers not being allowed to switch seats within our assigned cabin after the doors have closed. United’s customer service may lead them down the path other great airlines have gone. Airlines such as Pan Am, Eastern, National and​ TWA. I am a loyal United Airlines customer though as they are the only airline that flys out of Arcata Ca. If they persist with the customer service I have recently experienced, I may be driving to the SF Bay area for other choices on future… Read more »

Joanna Bailey

I don’t think they’d have had an issue with the passenger switching seats within a standard economy seat, but switching to a better seat was not going to be allowed…

Bob Sackimanow

Try flying American Air and experience their customer service and get back to us. Oh wait, I have and I can tell you UA is way better

David Dye

If you’ve been flying for 5 decades John you know you can’t “self upgrade” from Economy Class to Business Class. It is the same way with Premium Economy. Move around the cabin all you want as long as you don’t upgrade yourself for free…


You can’t move around the cabin as you like as there are COG (Centre Of Gravity) issues for pilots to consider for Take Off. Only 3 Last Minute Changes (LMC) are permitted before a new loadsheet is required. The last thing you want is for the Aircraft to pitch up or down on takeoff due to Incorrect Trim being set.


In the same way that the economy passenger did not pay for the economy plus upgrade, the economy plus passenger didn’t pay for seating in an entire row. But it is a slippery slope once they start letting passengers move up. I’m premier platinum and always get an economy plus seat (and I prefer aisle). I have no issues with someone moves into the window sea after the door has closed. But I would have issues if I have to fight for my arm rest with someone who didn’t qualify for the upgrade


Airlines award their frequent fliers. And as you are a platinum, one of your rewards is a complimentary ‘upgrade’ to better economy seats.
Would you feel the same about someone hopping in to that window seat for free if you paid money for the upgrade?

Mark Crotty

I once had to explain to the manager of a well known pop singer, as I refused an upgrade, that I would not expect to get her latest album for the cost of the single release!

Joanna Bailey

Haha, great illustration 🙂


United has the right to deny a passenger a free upgrade–but they used a poor analogy. I was going to suggest comparing it to a rental car but I’ve had rental companies give me a free upgrade when they had a surplus of a more expensive vehicles and the vehicle I reserved was in high demand. But that’s beside the point–we try to avoid flying United (and American) because of poor service and a poor experience. Fortunately there are usually other options–Like Jet Blue, Delta, etc.

Joanna Bailey

You think? I thought it was a good way of saying you get what you pay for…


Agreed, the airline may be correct on policy but the car analogy is not apt, for the simple reason that a passenger moving to an otherwise empty (unsold) seat for a single leg does not prevent UA from selling the exact same seat on all future flights, but a person who bought a Toyota but took a Lexus *would* actually be preventing the car dealer from selling that Lexus to another paying customer at a later time. The point others have made about the airline’s cost of additional perqs for the upgraded seat (meals, etc.) is well taken, but otherwise… Read more »


It is not an “unsold” seat. Flight attendants continue to have the ability to sell it after the door is closed. Allowing 1 person to take the seat could allow others to do so freely and it then infringes on the space of those that paid. Like the Elite above that wants his armrest for himself instead of a freebie middle seat person taking it. Slippery slope …with a policy that prevents it. Buy it.


I was looking for this comment. Their analogy sucks. You don’t get to drive the seat home with you and keep it for the next 10 or 20 years. The seat as a commodity basically self-destructs as soon as the plane empties, paid for or not. You can use it to your passengers’ benefit, or you can pay the fuel to fly an empty seat while garnering no goodwill and a fair amount of twitter hate. I’ve never met a person who even notices if someone gets a free upgrade to the empty row two rows behind them, and if… Read more »

AF Kay

Of course United was absolutely right. So I dine at a fancy restaurant and I demand that I be served gratis caviar as the caviar is about to expire and would be discarded, since not too many diners have been ordering it. What an absurd demand!


I agree 100% with United. I’m an employee of another airline, and we do the same thing. If you want to sit in the extra legroom seats, you have to pay. And we use the same argument that United did, that it’s not fair to whoever has already paid to sit there, even if there’s nobody on that particular flight. And also it’s the extra money that millions of passengers a year pay to sit in these seats that help keep the regular economy seats’ prices a little lower. This complaining passenger is way off base.

Joanna Bailey

I agree. What would be interesting to see in the future would be airlines willing to sell an upgrade on board. Say you have 8 premium economy seats going spare, offer them to pax once the doors are closed… might be hard to implement, but could be an additional revenue earner.

Rosul Samian

Air Asia X did that. And I, for once, decided to upgrade me, my mom and younger sister in a flight from Jeddah to KUL, by paying on board


On the airline I work for we do offer the stretch seat for an additional cost that they can pay for on board. Before and after the doors have closed. It’s just said that people always expect to get something for free or discount. Yet want to be mad when prices go up on tickets. You can’t always get what you want. I say.


United passengers may purchase the Economy Plus upgrade onboard, it is an easy transaction with a credit card. It appears Mr. Patel did not wish to pay the fee. That was his choice, the option was offered.


Some airlines DO sell the ‘upgrade’ after the doors are close/take off.

Gate agent

We do offer them when available. Typically the flight attendants make that announcement that they are available for purchase.


I agree with you on your point with respect to an upgraded seat
That said, it’s ridiculous that the airlines are packing us in these aircraft like sardines. All of the coach/economy seating should have the same dimensions as what they are now calling Economy Plus


I remember my first flight to Japan in the mid 80s. It cost me $1,000. I can now find flight to Japan for $800. I’m wondering what costs you 20% less than it did 35 years ago? I’ll give you a minute.

We want cheap fares-we got ‘em.


Flights to Japan are a bad example. I’ve done flown there several times over the last 2 decades and those prices can change for a myriad of reasons. When gas prices were averaging around $3.50/gal I often found flights around $800, last year (with gas around $2) I couldn’t find anything less than $1100. I mention the gas prices to show it wasn’t because gas was ludicrously expensive, and we all know wages have been stagnant for about a decade. (I also used to be able to do short hops (not Japan related) for under $100 RT, now its next… Read more »

Brian Byrne

The cost to upgrade to Economy Plus is very reasonable for the added value. I always do it traveling alone or with my wife & five children (six with the newborn who has yet to fly). Obviously Krunal also sees this value, but instead of paying a fair price, chose instead to complain when what others paid for was not given to him for free.

Krunal has two choices: he can plan better in the future and upgrade his seats, or he can try his luck complaining his way out of basic Economy on other airlines, going forward.

Joanna Bailey

Agreed; you get what you pay for.


I don’t fly much, so I was surprised when I did recently, that there are so many levels of economy. Yes, it is a business, but what if buses started to do it? What about taxis, making the leg room varied based on fare would be easy enough. Its Ok that airlines gleam additional monies for the exact same seating, but isn’t that a tradition people are used to, that they can move into empty rows, what does it hurt?

Joanna Bailey

But it’s not the exact same, is it? Competition has forced carriers to compete on price – hence ‘basic economy’ with no checked bags, no seat selection etc – and then those that want a better product pay a little more. More leg room? A bit more. Lie down flat? A lot more. A suite and michelin starred menu? A heck of a lot more. You don’t go on a bus for 12+ hours, therefore most people are happy to pay a low fare for not very comfortable journeys, but on a long haul flight, they’ll also be happy to… Read more »


Different class seats are extremely common and accepted all over the world on trains and buses. Further, it’s clear that you sit in the class that you purchased. It’s fair and appropriate, especially for those that pay more upfront for those seats. It’s not a difficult concept.


To me, since 2008 the airlines industry has become more and more of a pain. Can’t say there is any carrier out there that I have loyalty to for these reasons, except a tiny amount to Delta and Emirates. I often pay extra to have a reserved seat with more legroom, but I’m also paying to reserve that seat. After doors are closed, and people don’t claim those seats and he/she doesn’t bother me, let that person move. Those who pay more, like me, will continue to do so and those who don’t, but get the upgraded seat have a… Read more »

Joanna Bailey

Trouble is, you do it for one, and what are the other 100+ economy passengers going to think?

Jack ass

United should be ashamed at themselves fly southwest and forget the cheap ass united

Established on the Localizer

Ah, by your name, I see you and Mr. Patel are one and the same. I fly a lowly 60,000 miles a year on UA. I get Economy Plus as a “perk”. I’ve had others such as Mr. Patel and you try to move up for “free” because a seat is empty. I have no issue letting the FA’s know that the squatter is interested in purchasing an economy plus seat. Sorry, but I’ve earned it, you can pay for it.

David P Petrie

I agree with United.It would indeed be unfair to those that paid for an upgraded seat.


Based on
The reduction of seat sizes in the economy section over the past few years it would
be good PR to accomadate middle seat passengers, giving everyone more space


I think the airline was completely justified. The same rationalization be be used when some crazy politicians promise to eliminate all current student debt. How exactly is that fair and equitable to those of us who have paid for years to reduce and pay off our school loans. How would that make me feel??? ENRAGED!!


Hows your arm doing after that reach?


You suffered, so everyone else should have to suffer?


Why should Howard have to pay his tuition and then be taxed in order to pay everyone else’s tuition?
Why should he “suffer” in order to better himself and then suffer again, to pay for a bunch of freeloaders?

Trakar Shaitanaku

If Howard is a Wall Street speculator (which is the only new tax being proposed to pay off Student loan debt), then his crocodile tears are indeed wasted. If he wants some vengeance, I’m sure he can find some solace in going back to his (local or online state university) to get his Masters and PhD for free (no, private universities will not be Tuition free, and Federal Student loans don’t cover but a small fraction of the tuition and fees at most private institutions).

Tr dl

I don’t think you understand the concept of limited government funds.

Trakar Shaitanaku

Tr dl, I don’t think you understand how fiat currencies work under current monetary economic systems.


Not sure UA’s analogy holds water. If I’m in a Lexus car pooling with 3 people in the back and a open seat up front, wouldn’t it be logical for someone to move to the front to equalize the space? I get that it’s extra for the econ plus seating. Doors are shut, flight is happening why not give a good experience to everyone on board by letting them spread out? First class would still be off limits as the service there I feel would warrant extra pay. With UA’s customer service nightmare’s in recent years you would think they… Read more »


Pretty funny. Imagine if they made a cabin announcement: any of you 100+ passengers that want a free economy plus seat are welcome to move into it. Whoever survives the fight gets to keep it. Ready, set, go!

Sotiris Alexandrou

Airline’s explanation was outstanding! You are getting what you paying for…

G Walters

I just paid $4800 for a United business class seat to Tokyo…unless you have reward miles or are a deadheading employee, I don’t want to see you in the seat next to me simply because its empty.. I paid for my seat, you need to pay for yours too..


Did you pay $4800 from you own pocket or the company paid for your seat? But I do agree empty seat doesn’t mean free!


What difference is it who paid for the ticket? The seat was paid for or earned by the passenger in it.


Do you really care if someone got it for free outright or if they got it for free because they flew enough miles in the past year to have frequent flier status? I paid $3500 for a business class seat to London and I thought the business class seat next to me was a waste — wish they could have offered it to someone back in economy for some nominal fee to cover the actual costs of the seat, maybe $100 or so. No point in letting a Polaris seat go unused. The flight was around 80% full based on… Read more »


I’ve already argued that the airline clinging to “economy plus” is dumb, but I actually agree on Economy vs. 1st/Business. The variance between those two classes of seats is pretty wide. But the variance between Economy & Economy+ is miniscule in the grand scheme. Sure, two extra inches is a perk and make people pay for it pre-flight, whatever. But is it really so bad if a quarter of your plane is empty and someone takes that seat? Its a complete gamble on how full the flight will be, so it’s not like most people are going to come out… Read more »

G Walters

I bought a premium economy seat from Tokyo last year on United….I had two unoccupied seats next to me….made for a great 11 hour trip!!!!

EZ Eric

They should have filled those seats with inflatable dummies so that you would not have a better experience than the others in your class and make them sad.


That is a strange kind of humor you have.


But valid, how is all his extra space fair to the other people who paid for economy plus but had to sit next to other people?


Don’t always insist on getting what you are not willing to pay for! Every airline and any business tries to find ways to generate extra income… it’s part of sustaining a business.
You have the choice with who you want to fly. Ones you are in their house follow their rules!
A lot of adults should stop throwing these childlike tantrums!


When was the last time you’ve seen any empty seats on flights?Much less 7 rows

jesse wong

Some Asians are still thinking in their own narrow minds-don’t want to pay whenever they see an advantage to them.
I 100% agree United Airline’s great policy to enforce their rules. A Toyota and a Lexus is a very good example.


UA is correct and in the right, that doesn’t mean its a good look. These airplanes have more divided classes than the titanic…and all but economy are nothing but profit centers for them. Make a new class, charge a little more. This is going to happen more and more.


Come on United……the doors are closed AND the seats are empty. By allowing your customer to move into an empty row you show good will to him and the person to the left and right. That’s three people getting a better experience. Also….your analogy is not correct. The economy plus seat is not a lexus….it’s the same toyota with extra inch or two of leg room. No extra service or cost for United. Shame shame on united….you can do better.


Let’s say there’s 50 empty seats up there and 100 people want to claim them. How will you decide who gets it?

EZ Eric

Same way they offer other upgrades. If they know they are going to close the door on a half full plane, randomly select (or randomly by status, ticket class, etc) customers and grant the option to move up.


United is right, however this “looks.” If I had paid for E+ and somebody with regular E (or even Basic Economy, cheaper still) moved to an empty E+ seat after the doors closed, simply because it’s empty – that’s plainly wrong. I don’t understand the debate.

E+ passengers on some transcon flights get a hot meal – would Mr. Patel demand that too, after moving himself up?


I’ve flown United basic economy on many transcon flights, I’ve always gotten a hot meal. I know E+ (on United) gives extra legroom (emergency exit row is often E+ for this reason (for example)). The only other “perk” I’ve ever seen for E+ is I once got slippers… whoop dee doo.
“More legroom” is literally the only perk United claims to provide for that class of service:


So its OK when the airline does it to sell one more seat, but…

K Lamb

I fully agree with the airline. We take risks when purchasing economy tickets…

EZ Eric

We take risks and actions should be taken to make it clear to everyone there will NEVER be rewards. You will get exactly your economy seat, or maybe not, but be assured you will never be pleasantly surprised.



Robert e Greer

I flew from Turks to IAH last year and [paid extra for P Economy. During the flight no less than 6 people slowely started taking up the empty rows. Nobody said anything. I felt I had been screwed.


He saw the empty seat after boarding the plane, he would have not known of those empty seats prior to boarding. and they usually upgrade you at the boarding pass stop. I have changed seats silently within a cabin before and nobody ever told me not to. I was given the regular economy food, I did not complain. I think it is on discretion of the flight attendants. But the point UA has made is justified in every sense.

Glen Closet

Premium Economy on UA includes a little more legroom, reserved overhead bin space for your row, and an adult beverage or two. On one flight, a guy moved into a PE seat. When the beverage service came around, the FA told him he had to pay for his beverage!


No sympathy for United, the worst major airline in the US. How about if airlines just provided MINIMALLY comfortable seats to all of their passengers? This industry needs sorely needs MUCH more regulation. The way things are going now, soon they will just be stacking passengers in unpressurized cargo holds and charging them extra for air.

Maria Folsom

The airline is right. Their analogy with the car is wrong. It would cost a car dealer a lot more to let loose with a Lexus. The same is not true for an airline seat. The issue with the seat is that it is unfair to passengers who have already purchased the higher level seats. Good article.

EZ Eric

Demand for economy plus was obviously very low. They should have given the economy plus passengers a refund for the diminished value of their seats.

James E

Does Mr. Patel’s use of an assault weapon emoji imply anything? Was that a threat to UA?

Joe Benavente

No way I don’t, I suffer this all the time on the Guam Flights! I pay for economy plus everytime the you get standby ppl getting upgrades just for paying cheap stand by tickets! Thank you United, now apply that to all the Guam flights because I fly from all different places, Hawaii and Japan mostly.


I work for an airline and this is a common situation. In no other situation do people assume they can have something for free that others have paid for. Airlines sell seats. General Mothers sells cars and Beyoncé sells concert tickets. You buy the cheapest airlines seats and you will be in a middle seat in the rear of the aircraft. General Motors does not give you a Cadillac when you buy a Malibu and you certainly can not be in the front row of a concert or football game without paying. Every venue charges for premium seats. Upgrades are… Read more »


You get what you pay for and should not expect anything more


You get what you paid for and should not expect to get anything more or an upgrade

donald girod

I would have expected the airline to sell the upgrade seats to economy passengers if nobody wanted to pay for them, and then come through and insert a device to take away the extra legroom. You have to guarantee that anybody who pays the low rate suffers the required amount. Maybe they don’t have space on the plane for the blockage equipment.


I see no issues, I often will pay for the upgrade to premium economy when available so I am not sure why people would expect to have it for free simply because it is unoccupied. You get what you pay for.


The problem some airline staff let people move about and then they want to do it all the time.

David Gilbert

Well done United………

Bob Sackimanow

The guy paid for an economy seat and he is looking to get something for nothing. And I would bet that this is not his first flight. Let him fly another airline.