Is United a Good or a Bad Airline?

United is a certified 3-star airline and one of the most popular in the United States. However, as with all airlines, there are advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the purpose of your trip, some qualities will be more important than others and better suitable for your needs.

I fly with United several times a year. In over 20 years, almost all of my flights to various destinations around the world were pleasant experiences. This article was written based on my own experience and official rankings and data.

United Airlines is a very good airline because of its high satisfaction, quality safety features, and various mileage redemptions. Thanks to its quality of inflight services and helpful staff, the airline consistently carries millions of happy passengers to their destination year after year.

One of the best perks about United is that it is a member of the International Star Alliance Program. Those who frequently travel to various destinations domestically and abroad will love the benefits of being a part of this program.

In today’s world, taking advantage of airline miles and rewards can save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars United offers passengers not only one way but two ways to gain advantages and affordability of flights and services.

Some travelers claim United Airlines is bad based on various experiences. For example, the fewer airport hubs, the higher cancellation fees, and the fact that they have the oldest fleet. However, flying with United has a lot more advantages than downsides.

Tip: Don’t miss our complete review of Delta Airlines. We cover all possible pros and cons in this article.

To save you from any sudden surprises and keep you well-informed before departure, here is a comparison of the pros and cons of flying with United Airlines.

Why It Is a Good Airline | 7 Pros

United carriers have millions of passengers each and every year, and they keep coming back for more due to their high-quality service and benefits. While they may not be ranked at the top of the list, there are a lot of advantages when it comes to flying with United.

1. Very Few Delays & High Reliability

Reliability is one of the most important aspects when it comes to flying. United tends to have few delays and cancellations unless it is extremely necessary due to weather conditions or extreme circumstances.

💡 In my experience with flying with United, I have never had any flight canceled and have only dealt only one delay that was less than an hour due to high traffic on the runway.

2. Excellent Customer Satisfaction

In 2022, United scored 810/1,000 in a study based on Airline Satisfaction, while the average was 820. The study compared 8 different factors throughout the company, such as policies and inflight services.

The majority of United passengers have good things to say about their experience, withal overall satisfaction almost every time.

3. Mileage Plus Loyalty Program

United offers frequent flyers a chance to earn miles and rewards through its Mileage Plus Loyalty Program. Passengers can work their way up eirs gaining rewards and benefits with the more miles they earn, such as early check-in or priority boarding.

I am a huge advocate for airline loyalty programs and always take advantage of them as much as I can. Members can also use their points as bundles by paying an extra annual subscription fee, earning upgrades and trip passes.

💡 Make sure you register with the MileagePlus program prior to your trip to ensure you receive award miles and credit, even if you aren’t aiming for status.

4. High Safety Ratings

As of 2021, United Airlines ranked in the top 20 out of over 300 airline carriers in terms of safety, which is very good. The company stands out for long-term innovation and excellence when it comes to safety factors.

Not only are they up to date with their fleet of aircraft and have a low incident history, but they also strive to keep passengers safe when it comes to physical health, especially during a pandemic.

I have always felt very safe and secure when flying with United, and I have never experienced any issues or illnesses due to flying with them.

5. Star Alliance

The Mileage Plus Program isn’t the only mileage perk that comes with flying with United. Being part of Star Alliance allows flyers a chance to earn perks and miles on other well-known airlines as well, such as Lufthansa or Air New Zealand.

If you are a frequent flyer like myself, it’s often hard to always fly with the same airline every time. I love that the Star Alliance Program allows me to transfer my miles to and from different airlines to bundle as I see fit.

A friend of mine who splits her time between the United States and New Zealand takes advantage of this option a lot and flies with the united as much as possible. Additionally, flyers have the opportunity to take part in MilePlay, offering additional miles and points for taking a certain amount of flights in a specific timeframe.

6. In-Flight Food Options

Compared to various other carriers in the United States, United has an extensive menu of inflight meal options. In addition to complimentary soft drinks and peanut snacks, meals are served on flights lasting longer than three hours.

Food choices will depend on the flight route, but there is always a variety to choose from. For flights lasting over 1.5 hours, passengers also have the option for nibbles and bite-sized snacks to choose from the onboard snack shop for an additional fee.

7. Premier Seating

United Airlines offers more premium cabin flat-bed seats than the rest of the airlines in North America. While they may not have to best reputation when it comes to comfort, if you are willing to pay an extra fee for an upgraded seat, it’s well worth it on that long-haul cross-country or international flights.

Drawbacks | 3 Cons

United airlines ranked 6 in a previous analysis ( J.D. Power North America Airline Satisfaction Study, 2021) of the best airlines in the United States. While the airline is not bad, it has a long list of perks and high-quality aspects; there are some concerns to take into consideration and be aware of when choosing to fly with United.

One thing I often notice is that seats feel less comfortable in economy class compared to other airlines. Headrests feel harder, and the seats are somewhat less cushiony than other airlines. Additionally, as of 2022, United has the oldest fleet of all US airlines.

While domestic flights have free onboard entertainment like select movies and music, keep in mind that these options are limited during international travel or cost an additional fee. Decide for yourself if the quality of entertainment is worth the additional fares.

Additionally, if the following aspects are important to you, United may not be the best airline for you:

1. Number of Airport Hubs

United Airlines only has eight hubs in the country, where the majority of flights either originate, end, or operate through. Depending on your location, many flyers are far distances away from these hubs, making flying with the airline difficult at times due to limited options.

💡 In the United States, there are hubs in San Francisco, L.A, Washington D.C., Chicago, Denver, Houston, Newark, and Guam. If you are a resident of Ohio or Kansas, for example, flying with United can only be done through airports with connecting flights.

2. Obtaining High Status is Costly

A potential drawback for some travelers is that earning points and rewards works a little differently when it comes to United. Instead of earning points on the number of miles you fly, points are earned based on the amount of money you spend.

So, while you may be a frequent flyer with the airline, if you are on a budget and fly by purchasing last-minute flight deals or sale prices, the rewards and perks will take longer to achieve compared to other airlines.

3. High Cancellations Fees

Sometimes, plans just change. Whether it be due to rescheduling appointments, bad weather conditions, family matters, or unforeseen incidents, there are times when travel plans just have to be altered.

United Airlines have a high fee for canceling tickets or making changes to existing reservations. For example, canceling domestic tickets can cost over $200 and over $400 for international ones.

Due to a previous delay, I was late arriving at my ongoing destination and was forced to change my flight because of bad weather. Thankfully I had travel insurance, or else this would have been way out of my budget.


Regardless of the few downsides, after using United for 21 years with so many positive experiences, I can only say that this is one of the airlines I definitely recommend to everyone I know.