Earlier this week United announced that it was going to follow the Continental model of upgrades. Free for all elites and automatic. Up until now United and American (with the exception of AA"s top tier) used an "instrument" based upgrade system.
The instruments used to be paper certificates on United or stickets on AA. As technology has progressed these became virtual yet the names remained.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not so suprisingly, this has caused an uproar with the United fliers and, interestingly, pilots.
The fliers are upset for a number of reasons. My favorite one was that they wouldn't be able to game the system as easily, if at all. The pilots are concerned as they will have to fight with paying passengers for seats up front. Egads, why give a premium seat to a paying customer as a perk. (And we wonder why UA is circling the drain?)
As has been noted by many people, the people who need to worry are the Premiers. With United having some of the planes with the fewest number of First class seats, the Premier members will always be at the bottom of the barrel. No longer will it be an option to upgrade, it will just be given and thus a lot more people will be contending for the few seats.
It's been rumoured for quite some time that we would see changes with both United and Continental as this migration from Skyteam to Star progressed. We're now starting to see changes on the United side in anticpation of the alignment. The belief is that the Continental/United partnership will mimic the old Continental/Northwest partnership, if not more in-depth. I wouldn't be surprised to see complimentary upgrades being offered to the other's elite members on the horizon...