United and Continental have announced that United’s Economy Plus seating section will remain after the two airlines merge and will be introduced on Continental aircraft beginning in 2012. Economy Plus seats are located in the front of the plane and offer up to five extra inches of legroom. Mileage Plus and Continental OnePass elite members receive complimentary Economy Plus seating on every flight that offers these seats, which includes all 359 United mainline planes and over 150 regional jets operated by United Express. After the conversion is complete, which will take several years, an Economy Plus section will be available on more than 700 mainline aircraft and 40,000 Economy Plus seats will be offered.
It hasn’t been decided whether first class or coach seats will be removed to make space for the new Economy Plus section on Continental aircraft. It’s also unclear whether Continental OnePass Silver and United Mileage Plus Premier members will be able to book Economy Plus seats in advance or only at check-in. Right now, OnePass Gold, Platinum, Presidential Platinum (but not Silver) and Mileage Plus Premier Executive, 1K and Global Services members can book extra legroom seats (select bulkhead and exit row seats) on Continental Airlines flights and all OnePass and Mileage Plus elite members can book Economy Plus seats in advance on United Airlines flights.
Bottom line: This is good news for low-level elite members who have a very small chance of getting an upgrade. United and Continental elite members who don’t get upgraded to first class can at least enjoy the extra space offered by Economy Plus instead of being cramped in regular coach.