It isn’t a perfect solution, but the beginning of official reciprocity between elite customers on United Airlines and Continental took effect this morning. The program, offering access to premium coach seats and to the airport upgrade list, is only available at the airport rather than in advance. Still, it is a step in the right direction for customers of both carriers who have been awaiting this benefit since it was announced in late 2009.
For access to United Economy Plus or UDU-eligible upgrade flights Continental OnePass elite members must speak to an agent at the airport; the kiosk and online check-in systems have not been updated to handle such requests. Similarly, for United MileagePlus elites, access to the Extra Leg Room seats and EUA-eligible upgrades can be requested at the airport.
The bad news is that most upgrades are handed out well before passengers make it to the airport. Moreover, both carriers are clearing upgrades quite aggressively inside the 24-hour online check-in window, leaving few seats available at the gate. This translates to rather low chances of this program truly benefitting folks by getting them into first class. In the same vein, Continental does not offer too many Extra Leg Room seats on their aircraft; mostly bulkheads and exit row seats, and these are often claimed in advance by the OnePass elites.
Indeed, the folks who will benefit the most from this move are OnePass elites flying on United flights. United has a much larger E+ section and more seats that Continental elites are likely to be able to access. And while there have been many reports of successful access to these seats at the airport even without the official policy (I’ve gotten such nearly every time), having it as an official policy makes it rather easier than begging of the agents in the Red Carpet Club or at the gate.
Although there has been no official statement from either carrier confirming the reciprocity now in effect it has been widely reported by a number of front-line agents including two Continental representatives that I spoke with in Las Vegas this morning. They confirmed that they had already processed United elites onto the upgrade list for Continental flights today.
- Continental/United merger approved by DoJ
- Continental to charge for extra legroom
- Continental announces new top tier and system-wide upgrades
- Continental and United announce reciprocity – aka The other shoe drops
- Thus ends the Continental brand
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