Empty Seats in Business Class

To get back to New York, I booked the United p.s. LAX-JFK redeye flight in economy.

For my previous four bookings on this particular flight in its various incarnations as UA82, UA691, and now UA599, United was looking for volunteers to be bumped.  Of those three oversold flights, I’ve taken the offers twice and been upgraded to business class once.  This time around, they were actually clearing the standby list.

When I noticed a bulkhead aisle seat open up, I grabbed it.

United bills its p.s. economy section as “Economy Plus.”  A quick glance at Seatguru shows that the pitch on these seats is only 34″ for United p.s. 757-200’s compared to the 36″ for mainline United 757-200’s.   The bulkhead row has a bit more legroom, perhaps even a bit more than the bulkhead in United’s A320 first class.

A week prior, clicking through on United’s “upgrade to premium seating” offer actually showed a price ($375) to upgrade to business class.  Amongst United’s premium domestic cabins, p.s. is the only one which has ever tempted me to upgrade, even with miles.  Nonetheless, I declined and chose to gamble on being bumped and rerouted onto an itinerary eligible for a complimentary upgrade to first class.  Apparently similar reasoning went through the rest of the cabin, as we departed with empty seats in business class.  Similarly, my flight out on American also had empty seats in business class.

Like the balance struck by charging for standby, upgrades are similar.  As a midtier elite on American, I’m not eligible for automatic upgrades; United excludes p.s. flights from automatic domestic upgrades for its elite members.   Denying free upgrades to passengers, even with space available nominally preserves the value of upgrading in advance.  Why pay to upgrade when one can wait it out and gamble on getting an upgrade right before departure?  If the price were a bit lower, I’d likely jump on it.

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