In 2004, United Airlines introduced p.s. (premium service) onboard its transcon flights between New York Kennedy and Los Angeles/San Francisco. This enhanced domestic product mimicked an international flight with menus, enhanced meals, and a premium business and first class seat. When UA closed its JFK station in 2015, p.s. shifted to Newark. But rumors have been swirling this week that United will end p.s. service. United has now confirmed that enhanced service on these premium transcon flights is not going away.
Yesterday on one of my United flights a FA mentioned that p.s. service is going away “and would be replaced by traditional domestic first service”. That sounded far-fetched, but a thread on Flyertalk revealed others had heard the same thing.
With fierce competition between New York and San Francisco/Los Angeles, the idea that United can cutback its product offering makes little sense. On the contrary, Delta and JetBlue continue to enhance their product.
I reached out to United for a quote and Jonathan Guerin, a Public Relations Senior Manager and spokesman, wrote me back with the following–
The premium trans-con markets we operate between EWR and SFO and LAX are not going away. We will continue to offer the enhanced service on those flights.
I called him up and we spoke for a few minutes this afternoon. Indeed, removing the p.s. name is under consideration, but the lie-flat beds will remain. The enhanced meals are not going away. Even menus and amenities kits will remain.
Will the new service be just called standard domestic first class or perhaps Polaris? No decision has been made. Guerin did admit that strong competition is factoring into the analysis. That suggests United is looking at some ways to trim costs — premium advance-purchase fares have plummeted since JetBlue entreated the fray with its MINT service.
What United Should Do
As long as a decision has not been made yet, I will add my two cents.
P.S. was a great marketing campaign, but it may have run it course. A name-change is okay, but I am happy to hear United will not pull the plug on a successful product during a time in which competition is improving. United has a strong presence at Newark (with minor competition from Virgin America) but it still competes in a greater New York market. It would be irrational to cede all local traffic and focus just on lucrative international connections. Chunks of New York City are reached more easily via Newark than Kennedy. UA must aggressively highlight this.
United would be wise to keep the menus, keep the premium service and go a step further, offering Polaris Lounge access to all premium transcon passengers (even if that leads to food cutbacks onboard). With low oil prices and dwindling competition, we are not in the era of racing to the bottom. Rather, we are in an era where carriers must innovate to win business.
Hopefully, in changing the p.s. name, United will introduce new perks that will distinguish its product from a crowded field. Stay tuned.
A Review of My First and Last United p.s. Flights from JFK
Onboard Video from the Final United p.s. Flight from JFK
United JFK Employees Say Goodbye to Home, Hello to Uncertainty
Pictures: Saying Goodbye to United Airlines at JFK
United Airlines Leaves JFK, Moves p.s. to Newark
Top image courtesy of Matt@PEK / CC