United Expands Economy Plus Seat Program to Continental

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United Airlines

United Airlines said it intends to keep its Economy Plus premium seating section and add the roomier seat option to the domestic fleet of merger partner Continental by 2012.

The popular Economy Plus seating upgrade is currently available on all of United's 359 mainline aircraft and more than 150 larger regional jets operated by United Express carriers.

The upgraded seat, which United first introduced in 1999, adds up to five inches of extra legroom and pitch space to economy seats located in the forward section of the cabin. United is the only major domestic carrier to offer such a seating option.

United and Continental frequent fliers get automatic upgrades, while non-elite travelers can buy access to Economy Plus for $9 to $109 one-way, or $425 a year.

The seats take up more space on planes than standard seats, which could theoretically mean less revenue, Jim Compton, executive vice president and chief revenue officer of the new United, told the Wall Street Journal.

But the seats have proven popular with elite frequent fliers and other passengers, United said.

When fully deployed, the new United's fleet will include more than 40,000 Economy Plus seats on about about 700 airplanes.

Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines last week announced plans to introduce a premium economy seat tabbed "Economy Comfort" on all its planes deployed for long-haul international flights. The seats, which should be in place this summer, will add up to four inches of legroom and 50% more pitch to standard international coach seats.

American Airlines started a similar program in 2000, but the program was scrapped in 2005 in favor of a $100 million a year savings in revenue.

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