Review: What’s it like to fly United’s Economy Plus class?

Once upon a time, you turned left or right when boarding a plane. Left led to business class; right to ‘cattle’. Left, you enjoyed. Right, you endured.

Today, it’s a different story. Economy class is no longer a generic sardine can, but carefully split into as many as three distinct tiers… all offering incremental improvements in return for extra fees.

United’s Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner is a case in point.

The aircraft is the newest version of Boeing’s modern classic, and it now flies between Dublin and Newark in a four-class configuration. A right turn takes you to the ritzy Polaris Business Class. Turn left, and you’ll find 21 Premium Plus seats, 54 Economy Plus and, deeper into the plane, 199 Standard Economy seats.

So what’s it like ponying up for ‘Plus’? Are six additional inches of legroom worth the extra cash? Here’s my United Economy Plus review.

The seats

United’s Economy Plus seats are no wider than standard Economy, with the cabin laid out in a cramped 3x3x3 formation. They don’t recline any further and come with the same slick trim, but they do offer a USP – up to six extra inches of legroom (i.e. from 34-37 inches of seat pitch versus the standard 31”).

On a long or medium-haul flight, that extra space helps you feel more human – particularly if you book one of nine seats at the bulkheads separating Economy Plus from the Premium Plus cabin (more expensive again). Row 30 offers an additional benefit in being further from the queues for mid-plane loos.

Extra legroom also means it’s easier to stow hand luggage under the seat in front (useful for work or kids’ stuff ), and less bother with reclining seats in front.

If you choose a seat at the bulkhead, just bear in mind that screens are stowed in seat arms rather than headrests, so you won’t be able to watch at eye-level.

The forward position of the cabin makes disembarking quicker, too.

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Service and in-flight experience

Boeing’s 787-10 Dreamliners are very polished planes.

If you’re connecting from an older aircraft where noise-cancelling headphones are a must, you’ll notice the quieter cabins straight away.

Other creature comforts include larger windows that replace blinds with dimmer controls that control the amount of daylight with lovely tints.

Curving storage bins allow more overhead space, air-conditioning is less noisy and mood lighting feels much easier on the body (soft blues on take-off, for example, or a nice dusky orange glow just before lights out). It’s standard on Dreamliners, and newer plans like the Airbus A350s, but a treat for flyers nevertheless.

United’s Economy Plus seats carry the same amenities as regular Economy – a tablet-sized seatback screen that gives very little glare, USB and universal charging ports, and a decent selection of new movies, TV shows and music.

You’ll need to pay for Wi-Fi, though.

By contrast, the Economy Plus I experienced on an older 757-200 from Newark to LA felt much tireder. With glarey screens, grubbier seats and trays, smaller windows and an annoying table bend that made working on a laptop wobbly.

One more tip. Bring your own headphones. United’s disposable ones are poor, and contribute to waste with their plastic wrapping and elastic band. 

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Food & Drink

Don’t expect any frills or flair… there’s nothing ‘Plus’ about the food. Other than the extra legroom, United’s Economy Plus is the same as Standard Economy.

Breakfast on my 787 flight was a choice of bacon and eggs or a ‘crepe’ (above), which was actually more like a berry pudding. It was very standard, stodgy airline fare – though the fruit is fresh and chilled, and the coffee reasonable.

Definite room for improvement, here.

A word on waste, too. This is consistently disappointing on airlines (United is not alone), and I feel so guilty sending all of those plastic containers, lids, wrappers, cutlery and sachets to the bin. Blankets are wrapped in single-use plastic plastic. Stirrers are plastic. Water is distributed in plastic bottles and cups.

United says its flight attendants collect and recycle aluminium, plastic and paper on most domestic US flights, but I didn’t see any separation of waste during collection. I fly with my own water bottle, but it feels almost pointless amidst all this trash.

If you want a menu, real cutlery and plates, and an enhanced offering, look at Premium Plus… though that’s considerably more expensive (see below).

How much does Economy Plus cost?

You can’t buy Economy Plus off the bat. You need to choose a ‘Standard Economy’ fare (i.e. not Basic Economy), and proceed to book. At that point, you may upgrade. You can also book at the airport, depending on availability.

Standard Economy fares between Dublin and Newark start from €390 as we publish. On a sample booking, I was quoted Economy Plus upgrade bundles from an extra €168 outbound and €200 return.

You can also upgrade later by logging onto ‘My Trips’ on (or the app). Prices will rise or fall depending on demand.

Regular flyers may be interested in United’s subscription model – it allows you to buy unlimited annual Economy Plus ‘global’ upgrades from $799.

United’s Premium Plus costs from €1,032 each-way.

Is it worth it?

Yes, for longer-haul flights or if you need extra space to work on a laptop, or for height or health reasons. For shorter routes, not so much.

There’s no difference between Economy Plus and Economy when it comes to food, service, lounge access or baggage allowance.

This is all about the legroom.


See Pól flew on a media rate with United.

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