United Prime

by thoughtsatlarge

January 1, 2021

Houston – Today marks the beginning of a new era in flight at United Airlines! Gone is the short-lived Basic Economy, lasting less than one year despite being a favorite of company travel departments everywhere. Basic Economy offered a non-refundable ticket, no online check-in, no carry-on (other than a regulation sized candy bar), and the benefit of being the last passenger allowed onboard prior to departure. Replacing Basic Economy is the new, highly vaunted United Prime.

Taking its cues from Amazon Prime, United Prime is a new vision of commercial flight offering two distinct new ways to fly. The first, and most affordable option, is United Prime Corrugated. This option requires passengers to purchase (at a small additional fee of $89) a packing box large enough for one “average” adult and their luggage (providing the passenger’s luggage does not exceed the size or weight of a photo ID). Sealed at the United customer service counter, the box is weighed before being forwarded to the baggage area for “seating” assignment in the cargo hold. Boxes weighing more than 125 lbs. will be subject to a convenience fee of $18.95 per pound over the allotted 125 lbs. To better optimize the guest experience, check-in has also been eliminated, along with seats, lavatories, and pretzels. Rewards points can still be exchanged for air holes.

Star Alliance members will have the opportunity to upgrade to United Prime Corrugated Plus+ for an additional $75. This option offers passengers the option of a brand-new, responsibly sourced packing box with a professionally embossed United logo, an additional 5 lbs. of allotted weight (including the weight of the box), and the option of a new, crew member-installed catheter. In case of emergency mid-flight, this premium packing box has even been classified for use as a coffin, though the user warranty warns that travelers assume all risk for any “surprise cremation” sustained in a crash.

An aggressive advertising campaign is launching to accompany these new options. The media blitz has already featured celebrity endorsements ranging from Captain Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger to Big Bird, who was used to demonstrate the competitively priced “child crates” United is hoping to roll out sometime later this year. Gone is the dated Gershwin penned Rhapsody in Blue, replaced instead with the hip Alice in Chains classic Man in the Box. The riff kicks in just as the ads fade out and the viewer is saluted by a digitally resurrected Paul Tibbets. United Prime Corrugated and United Prime Corrugated Plus+ are both available now on all domestic and international flights. Other airlines are expected to unveil similar options in the coming weeks.

Despite its recent launch, United is already looking beyond the Prime Corrugated lines. Although they remain unconfirmed, the long-rumored and highly secretive United Drone (reserved for long haul flights) and United Cannonball (for shorter service flights) projects are thought to be well past the development stages and possibly conducting trials at undisclosed locations in the Houston area.

Not without its technical challenges, United Drone has already been linked to several recent accidents. In May, a driver on Interstate 45 near Kingwood was involuntarily man slaughtered when a box bearing a United logo and filled with clay hit his pickup truck. The story was initially misreported as having been “a joke gone bad” after responding officers identified the man’s artfully entombed head as a sculpture. Coroners and lawyers would later announce that the package “transitioned” through the man’s windshield before “opening in an operationally unintended manner” and killing him instantly. Entitled “Ode to Traffic,” the sculpture was eventually moved to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in October of 2020.

In a possibly related case earlier last year, a cat was killed when another responsibly sourced packing box seemingly fell from the sky in a neighborhood just north of George Bush International Airport (home of United Airlines Research and Development). In both cases, witnesses claimed to have seen drones flying in the area emblazoned with the familiar United tagline, “Fly the Friendly Skies” on their sides, only to see them quickly disappear before authorities could investigate. Local authorities have not responded to a request for comment on the incident, though a veterinarian presented with crime scene photos declared it unlikely that “poor diet” was to blame for the Chernobyl ash shadow imprinted on the sidewalk.

So too has the United Cannonball project been plagued by setbacks. According to a United engineer who spoke to me under the condition of anonymity, one recent Cannon prototype exploded with a test dummy still inside it. The follow-up model, which was specially calibrated to transport valued passengers up to nineteen miles in the direction of their final destination, instead fired a test passenger eighteen feet into the side of a lunch trunk parked in front of the testing facility. The engineer was pushed into early retirement after he attempted to revive the test passenger, whose body was discovered just this past week with a professionally embossed logo on his forehead. It is with both optimism and dismay that I add that the passenger’s final resting place, or “destination,” was a dumpster just over seventeen miles from the United Airlines Research and Development facility.

This story is still being developed. Please return here for occasional updates.