United Will Start Charging To Select Some Regular Economy Seats

With airlines looking to make more and more money while offering cheaper fares, it seems as though United has found yet another way to make money.

The airline is launching their United Corporate Preferred program. In doing this, they have hinted that the front few regular economy rows will cost a premium to reserve. Currently the first 7 economy rows on a United A319 have extra legroom, and thus cost extra to reserve. United now plan to charge extra for seats in the next 5 rows. While they have only released seat plans for the A319, the changes affect the airlines whole fleet.

United A319 seating plan.
A United graphic showing the seats that are part of the United Corporate Preferred program in beige. Photo: United

What is United Corporate Preferred?

United Corporate Preferred is the airlines new incentives program for its highest revenue corporate clients. This offers rewards similar to individual frequent flyer status to whole organisations. Put simply, if you fly once a year on business, if the company has United Corporate Preferred, you get the same treatment as an individual who flies every week.

Some of the benefits of the program include priority boarding, enhanced seat reservations, and increased preference for available upgrades. Currently this program is available by invitation only because United want to ensure the program “delivers maximum value”.

Customers will enjoy access to preferred seats in Q4 2018. These standard-legroom seats will typically closer to the front of the aircraft behind United Premium Plus and Economy Plus.

Why Do Airlines Charge For Seats?

Seat reservations were traditionally an extra source of revenue for low cost airlines. Airlines such as Ryanair, Pobeda, and Jetlines Canada use paid for seat reservations for exactly this reason. It costs the airline nothing to allocate a specific seat to a passenger. When somebody purchases a seat reservation, the whole amount goes straight to the airline. With Ryanair, this can be anything from £4 to £15.

In contrast, some premium airlines have started to charge for this service too. As part of their list of “enhancements”, British Airways will let passengers who have booked their cheaper fares pay to select a seat. With British Airways an economy seat costs anywhere from £7 to £50 depending on the flight and seat.

Why Are United Doing This Now?

It seems like United are doing this solely for their Business customers. When charging for a seat, customers are less likely to pick it over a free seat unless they particularly want to sit there. This ensures that more seats are available for their Business customers when they are needed. If United was doing this as an effort to make more money from passengers, then it would make sense for them to charge for every seat, not just a select few.

This follows in the footsteps of American Airlines who currently have a similar policy for like for like seats. It is likely that the change was introduced by the president of United, Scott Kirby, who used to be president of American Airlines.

The changes to the seat reservation policy are expected to take effect in the last quarter of 2018, as hinted at by the Untied Corporate Preferred website.

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