Travelers buying new Basic Economy fares can bring just 1 personal item that fits under the seat.
Travelers who buy United Airlines’ cheapest tickets won’t get to use the overhead bin beginning next year.
The only carry-on bags allowed for passengers booking United’s new Basic Economy fares will be small personal items like a purse, backpack or briefcase that can fit under the seat in the front of them, the airline announced Tuesday.
United stopped short of adding a fee for carry-on bags, as low-cost competitors Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant airlines do for bags that don’t fit underneath the seat. But it is the first major airline to essentially ban roller bags and other full-size carry-ons for travelers booking its lowest fares.
Basic Economy travelers who want to check a bag will pay United’s regular fee of $25 for one bag and $35 for a second bag.
The only Basic Economy passengers who will be exempt will be those with status in United’s frequent-flier program or certain United frequent-flier credit cards.
An airline spokeswoman said United employees will be able to police the new carry-on policy because Basic Economy passengers will board last and have Basic Economy stamped on their boarding passes.
United is introducing the fares to compete with no-frills carriers like Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant. Those carriers unapologetically offer cheap fares and a pile of optional fees.
United and other major carriers have been matching fares on routes where they compete but say it doesn’t make sense, financially and otherwise, to give those price-sensitive travelers the same perks as someone paying a higher fare.
So that’s where the Basic Economy fare category comes in. Delta was first in 2012 and United will start selling Basic Economy fares in “select” markets in early 2017. It did not identify the markets.
United is the fourth busiest carrier at Sky Harbor, carrying 1.6 million passengers through September of this year, the most recent figures available. American, Southwest and Delta are the top 3, with American No. 1 at nearly 16 million passengers.
The Points Guy, a popular website for frequent fliers, called United’s new basic economy fares “awful” because of the perks they don’t include.
Delta did not go as far as United in prohibiting standard carry-on bags, but the two carriers’ other restrictions on Basic Economy fares are similar:
- Travelers don’t get a seat assignment until they check in or arrive at the airport, greatly increasing the likelihood of getting a middle seat. Want to choose your seat in advance? Pay the higher Economy fare, though that is not even guaranteed without paying a fee.
- Want to sit with your traveling companions? Don’t count on it with Basic Economy fares. United says it will make it clear during the booking process, as the low-cost carriers do, that there is no guarantee of sitting together. Its online primer on Basic Economy tickets has a “Traveling With a Group” section that clearly states: “Based on when seats are assigned, we’re not able to guarantee that travelers on the same reservation will be seated together. If there are people in your group who need to sit together, this fare may not be the best option for you.”
- Passengers with Basic Economy tickets board last.
- No flight changes are allowed, even by paying a change fee.
American, the busiest carrier at Sky Harbor, plans to introduce a Basic Economy fare next year but has not released details. So it’s unclear whether American will restrict carry-ons for travelers buying these fares.
It’s worth noting, though, that American’s longtime president, Scott Kirby, was the architect and champion of the airline’s forthcoming Basic Economy fares before leaving for the same post at United last summer.
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