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Photos Show Differences Between Flying United’s Economy, Premium Plus Insider logo The word “Insider”. A side-by-side photo of author Joi-Marie McKenzie and an image of a United Airlines plane. Joi-Marie McKenzie/Insider

  • Back in April, I flew to London from Newark, New Jersey, on a seven-hour flight on United Airlines.
  • While I chose to fly premium plus to London, I flew economy on the way back home.
  • I was shocked by how similar the flights were despite paying nearly $400 more for an upgrade.

I recently took a seven-hour flight to London and back to my home in Newark — one in United’s premium plus and the other in economy. Let’s compare the two.

The author poses next to the United plane she was about to board. Joi-Marie McKenzie/insider

First, let’s talk about the cost. A round-trip economy flight to and from London cost around $900 in April. It cost around $400 to upgrade one leg of the trip. It would’ve been around $1,000 to upgrade both legs of the trip.

Premium-plus seats are located behind first class, as this United plane seating chart shows. United Airlines

When flying premium plus, I had access to a special line with a shorter wait time. This only applies to the United ticket counter and I still had to wait with everyone else to get through security. So I likely saved around 15 minutes.

A Premier Access sign for United customers at the Newark Liberty International Airport. Joi-Marie McKenzie/insider

When I flew economy, I had to use regular United lines to check my bag. I tend to arrive at the airport nearly three hours before an international flight, so I had time to peruse the newsstands and eat dinner.

A newsstand at London’s Heathrow Airport in April, ahead of King Charles’ coronation. Joi-Marie McKenzie/Insider

After boarding my flight to London, I was delighted to find that the premium plus seats are directly behind first class. Here’s a view of my plush window seat, which came with a Saks Fifth Avenue pillow, blanket, and toiletry bag.

A premium-plus seat on United Airlines. Joi-Marie McKenzie/Insider

The seat was a bit roomier than those in economy, and I had around 12 inches of legroom that I appreciated. The seat also included storage for any items I needed mid-air, and came with a remote for the entertainment system.

The view from a premium-plus seat on a United Airlines flight. Joi-Marie McKenzie/insider

Conversely, on the way home, I noticed immediately that the economy seat was smaller in size and felt like it had less cushioning. Still, I was glad it also came with a pillow and blanket.

An economy seat on an international United Airlines flight. Joi-Marie McKenzie/Insider

One of the major differences in economy was that I had less legroom — around 8 inches. Still, it was bearable. I also didn’t have a sleek remote and instead used a touch screen to access in-flight entertainment.

A view from a seat in economy on United Airlines. Joi-Marie McKenzie/insider

There was also a major difference in the food. In premium plus, I was served my meal on a small tablecloth and had actual silverware. My complimentary wine also came in an actual glass.

The author’s meal in premium plus: smothered chicken, potatoes, a salad, and dessert. Joi-Marie McKenzie/insider

While I appreciated the amount of food — smothered chicken with potatoes and onions alongside a salad and dessert — it wasn’t my favorite. The gravy didn’t seem to move.

A chicken dish served on a United flight in premium plus. Joi-Marie McKenzie/Insider

I was thrilled that before landing in London, I was also served a hot breakfast. I thought this meal was slightly better — though the French toast was a bit soggy. Still, the fresh fruit was delicious.

A photo of breakfast on a United Airlines flight when you’re sitting in premium plus. Joi-Marie McKenzie/Insider

Meanwhile, in economy, everything — including my complimentary glass of wine — was served in plastic and there was no tablecloth.

The author’s meal in economy: pasta, salad, and a dessert. Joi-Marie McKenzie/insider

But this time, I loved my meal. It’s true: I am a pasta girlie. And when it comes to my table hot and drenched in a ton of sauce, I am obsessed. I ate every last drop.

A close-up of the dinner meal that is served in economy, which was a pasta dish with a side salad. Joi-Marie McKenzie/Insider

Because I took an afternoon flight home, I was also offered a warm snack in economy. While I didn’t find my cheesy baguette tasty, I appreciated the bite to eat.

The snacks offered in economy included a spicy cheddar baguette. Joi-Marie McKenzie/Insider

Another major difference was the amenities. In premium plus, my flight came with this adorable toiletry bag that included a toothbrush, chapstick, lotion, socks, earplugs, and a sleep mask.

A look inside the toiletry bag given in premium plus on United Airlines. Joi-Marie McKenzie/Insider

I didn’t get a cute toiletry bag in economy, but I did get a complimentary pair of earbuds (right). In premium plus, however, you get an over-the-ear pair (left).

Headphones provided in premium plus (left) and earbuds provided in economy (right) on United Airlines. Joi-Marie McKenzie/Insider

Although I enjoyed having more legroom and a comfier seat in premium plus, overall, I didn’t think my upgrade was worth the price for an international flight.

A view of United Airlines’ planes from the author’s seat. Joi-Marie McKenzie/Insider

With the exception of the toiletry kit, all of the luxury items I got in premium plus, I also got in economy — from the pillow and blanket to the headphones. I also preferred the food better in economy and still got a free glass of wine.

A photo of a United Airlines plane on a tarmac at London’s Heathrow airport. Joi-Marie McKenzie

Perhaps I need to upgrade to business or first class next time, otherwise, I’ll stick to economy when going overseas.

The view from United Airline’s flight to London from Newark as the sunset. Joi-Marie McKenzie/insider

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