Disingenuous New United Airlines Ad Takes On Southwest’s Boarding Process

United Airlines offers the worst ‘cheapest fare’ coach product of any of the major U.S. airlines. Unless you’re a co-brand credit card customer or elite:

  • Board last
  • Not allowed to bring a carry on bag on board (can’t even pay for one)
  • Not allowed to use online check-in if you aren’t checking a bag, you must do the check-in counter walk of shame.

Neither American Airlines nor Delta treats its Basic Economy customers this way. Southwest Airlines doesn’t even have non-changeable basic economy fares. All of their passengers can bring carry on bags on board. None of their fares have change fees. And customers even get 2 free checked bags. Oh, and Southwest Airlines coach has more legroom than United’s standard economy seats too.

Yet United is running an ad campaign attacking Southwest over its inflight product – because if you don’t have Rapid Rewards elite status, buy a premium fare, or pay for ‘Early Bird check-in’ you need to check in 24 hours prior to your flight to avoid being assigned one of the last boarding positions and therefore one of the last shots at picking a seat on board.

A new @United ad campaign went live today.

United basically says: "Don't fly Southwest because you might get stuck in boarding group C"

But, United forgot to add: "Want a prime seat assignment on our cheapest tickets? That'll cost you — $50 or more on some flights!" pic.twitter.com/Oh2hewr2lX

— Zach Griff (@_ZachGriff) November 3, 2022

United does not allow basic economy passengers to select their own seat for free at all. And customers buying more expensive economy fares have limited options to choose seats without paying extra. United even has more boarding groups than Southwest does. And like United, you can pay for early boarding.

Southwest’s boarding process is a bit of a cattle car, since passengers need to line up at the gate half an hour before departure and their seat assignment depends on it. But they board 30 minutes prior to departure, not 35 or 40, and United’s boarding pens are no more humane.

Moreover Southwest’s policy of not pre-assigning seats means that the best seats are still available for last minute bookings and for passengers who change flights on the day of departure. Elites still board before boarding group B even if they switched flights at the last minute and couldn’t get an early boarding order. Southwest’s policy is equally great for families with small children, because if you have a lap infant and the flight isn’t full you’ll almost always wind up with a free seat for them. Family seating is easier to secure on Southwest than United – nobody wants to sit next to your kids but you.

The new United ad campaign is disingenuous in the extreme, and serves to highlight that United is less generous with non-status domestic coach passengers than Southwest is. Since Southwest doesn’t charge for checked bags, you’re also less likely to have to gate check a carry on!

If you want to criticize Southwest, they do not have seat back TV (United promises it, but has been slow to deliver) and their internet has been slow (but it’s improving faster than United’s, which is frequently unusable).

Update: So disingenuous for United to say they ‘we let you choose your seat in advance’ with no asterisks, caveats, or fine print. Sounds like a DOT complaint waiting to happen.

Here is the voicemail message you will receive from @united, in addition to a text message. https://t.co/jSMkcBOtkP pic.twitter.com/kmvNG1fLSj

— Ross Feinstein (@RossFeinstein) November 3, 2022

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