David J. Danto
Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion
United….Again, Part 1
New Boarding, And The Death Of Platinum
I posted a funny but sad tweet the other day:
Every business traveler knows that when your airline sends you an email saying things are improving, it’s usually Airline-Speak for the exact opposite – things are going to get worse. So when I received a notice from United Airlines that the boarding process was going to improve I knew even without reading the details that it was not a good sign. Of course, that turned out to be true. United – pressed for space at the airport – wants to do away with the lines for five boarding groups, so they’ve made this change which allows only Groups 1 and 2 to line up - while everyone else waits.
The problem of airline passengers trying to get to the front of any boarding line of course has nothing to do with wanting to accelerate their progress onto a crappy flying experience, but rather wanting to have a space on-board near their seat for a carry-on bag. The cause of the recently worsening problems is 100% due to the exorbitant fees the airlines now charge for checking bags. People who would have been be willing to check a bag for free now carry it on to save money, causing the jam-up and resulting boarding scrum.
With the current change, only United Group 1 and 2 passengers will be allowed to line-up, continuing to result in an advantage (for them) in getting to the gate early. People in Groups 3, 4 and 5 have no such benefit from arriving at the gate early. These lowly members will instead be milling about the gate – not in line but dying to be in line – and will inevitably rush the gate like a mob to be near the front as soon as called. Some may revert to the problem that happened before the group lines existed – ‘accidentally’ getting in the line too soon, hoping people won’t notice, slowing everything down. So yes, it will be worse for everyone (except the people at United who don’t want to have to keep the space for the extra lines.)
However, a few days after the announcement, I did take the time to read the updated boarding process in detail. United posted all the parameters of the change on their website. In studying the change, I realized it is more significant than I first thought.
Prior to the change, categories who could board the plane prior to Group 1 included the disabled and injured, uniformed military, families with small children and Global Services members. (Global Services being the most elite class of United flyers – based on being the travelers who spend the highest dollar amount on the airline.) Group 1 would then board, followed by each subsequent group. The two major changes that were understated in the new process announcement are that 1K status passengers now can pre-board after Global Services – before Group 1, and that Gold status flyers – who had been relegated into Group 2 – are now elevated to Group 1.
That’s a tiny set of changes that need to be unpacked to understand them. Firstly, it must be acknowledged that elevating 1K flyers to pre-boarding, and Gold flyers (a group that includes lifetime million-milers) to Group 1, are long overdue corrections of an injustice. This means that Group 2 now includes only Silver and United Credit Card holders, and Group 1 now includes Platinum and Gold flyers grouped together – and that’s the interesting part.
There is now no reason at all to be a United Premiere Platinum flyer (the 75K level.)
What does Platinum get over Gold? The only differences I can find are being higher on an airport upgrade list that doesn’t clear anyway (like being number 4 instead of number 27 on a wait list for just one seat) and the award of two ‘advance confirmable’ upgrade certificates – the ones that are considered a joke to all United frequent flyers, as they never get confirmed in advance, and often go the full year and expire without ever being used. (See my past blog about the “Bait and Switch” of these upgrades.) So essentially, with the Gold to Group 1 change, United just eliminated the value of being Platinum.
As a lifetime million-miler – the level that United only grants lifetime Gold status to – I would have been relegated to Group 2. I’ve often kept an eye on my travel toward the end of the year to make sure I exceeded the 75K level. Heck, one year I even bought qualifying miles to avoid Group 2 and with it having a year of waiting in line with the credit card holders to fight then for overhead bin space. Now there’s no point to any of that. Also, if you’re a million-miler, there’s almost no reason to stay loyal at all.
As for me, I’m personally stuck living 20 minutes from Newark airport – the airport that has only LaGuardia beneath it on the awful index – so I will still have to fly United for most of my travel if I want to fly non-stop. But business travelers that have other choices are now more likely to go with those other choices. The top United benefits are unreachable for most occasional business travelers, and the Platinum level now means nothing, so Gold is as far as one needs to go.
Could United fix this? Sure, just make the two confirmable upgrade certificates actually guaranteed. A lowly, stinking two ‘get out of jail free cards’ for their 75K flyers (and a few more for their 1Ks) that are honored without question, every time used. Will they do that? Of course not, their management is far too greedy to lose a few hundred bucks per Platinum / 1K flyer in a calendar year. So the result is them essentially killing any value in the Platinum level.
So long Platinum, thanks for what you used to be before Simsek, Munoz and Kirby killed you.
Addendum: When I wrote this blog it was intended to stand alone. However, after an outrageously farcical United experience at EWR this past weekend I understand that the topic I covered above is actually part of a larger story. So in my best Rocky and Bullwinkle, William Conrad voice, ‘Be with us for my next blog, Polaris-izing Passengers – or – A Tale of Two Airlines.’
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.
All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.