Tired of boardling last while flying coach? United has your cure, for nine bucks.
Note: This story was written earlier in March, but we opted to hold off a bit before publishing it so we wouldn’t look like insensitive clods in light of United’s recent, um, customer service issues. They seem to be coming around and hopefully this will make things even better — Eds.
As of March 2, 2018, passengers flying in anything other than basic economy with United Airlines can purchase “early boarding” for nine non-refundable bucks, a la American Airlines. The fee allows travelers to line up when the gate agent calls for boarding group two.
Our United 787-9 being made ready for the inaugural long-haul LAX-SIN flight
Superlatives abounded on this, the inaugural non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Singapore. It’s billed as the third-longest direct flight in the world and the longest to originate from the United States.
There was even a ribbon-cutting ceremony – the presence of a trade delegation highlighted the fact that economic ties are strong between Singapore and the U.S.
The flight takes 17 hours, five minutes to cover the 8,772 miles between Los Angeles and Singapore. Favorable headwinds shaved an hour off our flight time, but, still. It’s an awfully long time to be in the air.
MileagePlus X: A simple way to earn free #UA787 flights – Photo: JL Johnson
Let’s get something out of the way. I am not a United fan. In fact, I have said numerous times that all things equal, I’d rather fly Spirit. Why do I bring this up? Because after using United’s MileagePlus X App for a year, I’m starting to come around. And that, my friends, is a pretty big deal. Opinions formed from years of disappointment and failures at all levels don’t change overnight. They certainly don’t change as the result of side-project ancillary revenue apps. But here I am, about to tell you why you should be a MileagePlus X user too.
The United MileagePlus X concept is simple: Use the app to buy gift cards for everyday purchases at thousands of retailers and get United miles as a kickback. Earnings per dollar spent at merchants vary widely, typically between one and five miles. Earnings are dependent upon on the merchant and the time of year. For example, the standard for Amazon seems to be one mile per dollar, but I have seen up to three. The norm for Gap/Old Navy/Banana Republic is five, but for a while during back-to-school season earnings jumped to ten miles per dollar.
This arrangement is win/win/win. United gets a slice of the transaction (yay ancillary revenue!), the retailer gets a sale they may have otherwise lost, and the consumer gets miles. The concept United is using is far from the typical dining or shopping programs offered by nearly every other airline. When I think of the words “innovative” and “pioneer” United does not come to mind. But both apply in the context of MileagePlus X.
Updating the gate area means seating that can be enjoyed by everyone – Photo: United
On my recent trip to Chicago with United to experience their new United Club cuisine, we were shown something that the airline had been working on. Something that would have been obvious to so many, but that not so much to others. United has been working on many different ways to improve their boarding experience.
We have all had a bad boarding experience. A delayed flight, people massing at the gates (gate lice), no order at all, bad communication, and confusion. Airlines all board aircraft in different fashions, and each airline has someone (or a team) of people, who are consistently re-evaluating how the boarding process can efficient. Some new methods work well, others are silently stopped and never spoken about again.
But what is sometimes forgotten about in the boarding process is what that gate area looks like, how it is handled, and how passengers actually feel about it. United has decided to take a look at all of these factors and decided on trying a new boarding experience — one where even passengers had some role in the decision-making process.