I am a United Airlines fanboy - my first leisure international flight was on a United Boeing 757 from New York to London, and my first aircraft collectable was a Continental Airlines Boeing 777-200. Thus, naturally, when flying from my home base, also United’s largest hub, I have a favorite.
United began operations 94 years ago as a postal service carrier in Idaho. Continental also began around the same time by the same man as a postal carrier in Texas. Both carriers eventually grew to become some of the largest and most crucial carriers in the US after deregulation. In 2010, United Airlines acquired Continental Airlines in the form of a merger. Headquartered in Chicago, IL, modern day United is the 3rd largest carrier in the world with a fleet of over 800 aircraft serving over 300 destinations from 8 hubs, as well as a founding member of Star Alliance.
United began offering extra legroom in Economy in 1999 as the only US carrier to offer separate Economy rows with extra space at a premium price, and would continue to be the only through the early 2000’s - although many carriers featured more legroom throughout the cabin. From there its introduction began ramping up across the mainline fleet; meanwhile, Premium Economy became the hot topic of the 2010’s. In 2015 we saw the branded EconomyPlus product introduced across the Boeing 777 aircraft as well as post merger with Continental on all legacy Continental aircraft. EconomyPlus is now a standard sight within the fleet and includes extra legroom, priority boarding and easy exiting of the aircraft due to its forward location.
This is where this trip got interesting, I was not originally booked on United for this leg, I was actually booked on Spirit Airlines, a carrier I have flown plenty as a Fort Lauderdale native - their home base. My original flight was on Friday, March 6th at 8:10 PM, perfect for after work. However around 1:00 PM that day I received a notification that my flight was cancelled due to technical issues with the inbound aircraft. As you can imagine, I was in a bit of a panic, I needed to get to Dallas that evening and this was the first time I ever had a flight cancelled. I reached out to Spirit on social media and through the phone, then suddenly I got an email from Spirit rebooking me on a set of American Airlines flights connecting me through LA and arriving in Dallas the next day at 6:00 AM. Now, flying a red-eye on economy for a weekend trip to the other side of the country with a layover and back did not sound ideal. So I asked what else could be done and was told to contact the Spirit desk at O’Hare but then proceeded to give me the number of the actual airport, which led nowhere.
After being told the only way to change my flight would be to show up at O’Hare and work it out at the desk, I asked to cancel my flight and surprisingly received a full refund quite fast. I was now flightless with a return ticket from Dallas already booked. So I took to my favorite app, the United app, and checked award travel, to my pleasant surprise there were seats on a 8:20 PM Non-Stop to Dallas in Economy. A few clicks and I secured myself a seat on my go to carrier out of my favorite O’Hare terminal in less than 5 minutes. Given this was the beginning of the Coronavirus’ arrival to the US, seats weren’t as hard to find, however I would not recommend booking flights for a trip so last minute.
I booked this flight for 15,000 MileagePlus Miles, valued at $195, and $5 of taxes and fees. After a long trek to the airport, I arrived at my gate exhausted and in the last boarding group which felt like just too much. So I went back on the United app and purchased an upgrade to EconomyPlus for only $27 which came with an upgrade to Boarding Group 3. Due to the nature of mile redemptions, for this trip I did not earn any points.
The departure time for my flight was perfect for an afterwork trip, I took the CTA Blue Line from downtown and arrived at O’Hare around 40 minutes later, much better than rush hour traffic and only a few dollars. United flies out of Terminal 1 with select flights from Terminal 2. This Helmut Jahn designed “terminal of tomorrow” opened in 1987 and is one of my favorite terminals. It's not as massive and luxurious as modern terminals, but its sleek metal and glass interior, dinosaur on display, and iconic neon tunnel light show synced to United’s theme song of Rhapsody in Blue (my favorite composition) really make me feel like I am about to go out there and explore the world.
TSA at Terminal 1 is pretty expansive and includes TSA PreCheck, Priority lanes and now Clear lanes as well, going through the regular lines I was through within 15 minutes. During this time there were a few people wearing masks and gloves already, but it mainly felt like business as usual.
Boarding began around 8:00pm as our plane had arrived some time prior and was going through a deep cleaning. We had some friendly gate agents who cracked a few jokes as we waited to board. As always those who need extra assistance, military, and families were boarded first, followed by Group 1 and 2 as well as upper Star Alliance status members. Group 3 was next up and we were promptly scanned and on our way, a friendly flight attendant was at the door and greeted me on board after I gave the aircraft a good tap by the door.
Seat & Cabin
This was my first time in United’s EconomyPlus, and this retrofitted Airbus A319 was one of the cleanest planes I have ever been on. As I had mentioned this was towards the beginning of the Coronavirus’ arrival to the US, the plane smelled of disinfectant, was vacuumed and cleaned top to bottom, in fact even the space between the window and the seat (an area notorious for build-up of filth) was cleaned. I felt comfortable that the proper steps were taken at this time when, although things weren’t bad yet, it was on its way.
This aircraft featured 8 Domestic First, 42 Economy Plus, and 78 Economy seats. These Plus seats are in the front of the economy cabin and while they feature the same width as their economy cousins (17.7 in wide), they offer an extra inch of recline (3” total), 5 more inches of legroom which is the real treat, as well as universal power plugs between seats (2 per row, not offered in standard economy). All these features made it one of the most comfortable domestic runs I’ve had, in fact I managed to fall asleep for a large majority of the flight.
Food and beverage service began promptly after take off; however, the air was choppy on our way to Dallas and thus the service had to stop and resume 3 times, but the attendants were nothing but courteous and determined to get through everyone. After attempt 3, they partially gave up on the trolley and came row by row to take orders and run them back. Basic soft drinks and juices were offered on board - United features Coca-Cola and Minute Maid products. I opted for my classic inflight ginger ale and for my snack I chose none other than the best flying snack out there: the stroopwafel, also offered were pretzels and the recently added Oreo Thins. Alcoholic beverages as well as individual snacks and snack boxes were offered at an additional cost, larger meal items are available for purchase on longer flights.
A small tip for those who may not know! The Dutch originating stroopwafel is best consumed with a hot coffee, after you unwrap it you place it on top of the steaming cup and let it warm up for a bit before consuming. However I don’t drink coffee and a cold stroop is as delicious.
Amenities & Service
Perhaps the best amenity aside from seat selection, more legroom and power outlets is the fact that this cabin is towards the front and seats less people, thus overhead bin space is ample and available. Wi-fi was offered on this flight for a fee but I did not partake in it myself as my goal was to disconnect for the weekend.
This aircraft was not equipped with inflight screens, United is in the process of removing them from new and retrofitted aircraft switching over to entertainment on your personal device. But the entertainment catalog is pretty extensive and free of charge via mobile browser or the United app through the onboard WiFi network. To make your life a lot easier, I would highly recommend downloading the United app prior to departure, it allows you to track your flight, watch tv, and receive live updates on your arrival information.
This review is not to shame Spirit, as I fly them often enjoying their bare fare and good schedule home. In fact, I was quite surprised they had even rebooked me on a flight worth much more than my original fare, and though a pain to reach, the service was quick.
Although I slept for most of it, this added another good flight on United in my book, and being in EconomyPlus for the first time was a great experience. Everything worked out perfectly and was happy to spend the miles to get me where I needed to be on time. The added comfort of EconomyPlus was more than worth it for a small fee and will surely make me consider an upgrade more often when we’re safely back in the friendly skies, but it is worth keeping in mind how it stacks up against competitor's like Alaska Premium too. Till then, stay home, stay safe, plan future trips.