It happens to me a lot more than I would like. I'm booked on an Airbus A320 only to have United change it to an Airbus 319 causing my exit row seat in row 11 to be a standard economy seat (not even an economy plus seat) -- that's why I'm not too keen on booking exit row seats nowadays -- though booking exit row seats is one of the primo perks of a United Mileage Plus Premier Executive.
However, it seems to be a much worse change when you've got a seat booked in United's new Premium International Class only to have United change the plane at the last moment and replace it with a standard configuration plane. This happened to me 3 out of 4 flights this summer between Dulles and Frankfurt.
I mean would you rather have this (the old confirguration):
Or this (the new configuration):
It felt like a big bait-and-switch to me. Show me the cool fancy new seats that are a world of difference better than the standard seats (the premium seats lie flat, have 15" screens with 100s of video on demand shows/movies, have cushy cushions, etc., etc.) and then stick me in a standard configuration without telling me till I get on the plane. No notice before hand. No chance to change to a different flight. No compensation whatsoever. Not even an "I'm sorry."
I could understand this if it happens once in a while, but 3 out of 4 flights doesn't sound like once in a while. I could also understand it more if there wasn't such a big financial benefit to United in using the standard configuration plane (they get to sell a whole lot more business and first class seats in the old configuration than in the new configuration). How do I know that United isn't simply saying "well, we've oversold business by 20%, so let's use the standard configuration plan so that we can scoop all that revenue." ? There's also the fact that United started publicly announcing that they were using the new configuration planes on Asian international routes around that time, so perhaps they moved the planes from the europ
Perhaps I should take the advice I received from my friend George (who was on the last such change with me): Just go with the flow and be happy with what life brings you. That would certainly be better for my blood pressure, but I just don't think that's me. I think United should offer some form of compensation to those who chose to fly on the plane because of the premium seating that United is heavily advertising.
I guess the only thing to learn from this experience is to not depend upon the new configuration planes until United has completed its roll out of the upgrades. Originally the conversion was to be complete in 2009, but now they are predicting 2010. So far, as of Sept 2008, they have only converted 13% of their international planes (7 of 21 767s, 5 of 24 of 747s and 0 of 46 777s).