But on a broader scale, United’s new plan is a sign of how the airline industry is changing, which might work out in favor of passengers. So let us prepare ourselves for this impending change.
First, let’s unpack what United’s “Basic Economy” fare is, because a flashy headline about an airline charging for overhead space doesn’t tell the whole story. This new ticket option is less expensive than a standard Economy ticket (which you can still buy for the usual price), you are just paying the difference by giving up some amenities:
- Travelers can bring one personal item but cannot bring carry-on luggage.
- Travelers cannot pick their seat.
- Travelers must wait until the last boarding group.
In other words, you aren’t paying more for overhead space, you’re just paying less to get less (Delta Air Lines has a similar option). For some people, this could be an enticing offer. We all fly for different reasons, and students looking to budget or anyone who isn’t on a time crunch might find the savings valuable. If that’s not for you, just stick with the regular Economy ticket.
That’s the beauty – you have a choice now.
Empowering the Passenger
The idea here is to compete with the likes of Spirit and Frontier Airlines for their affordable airfare. Those airlines go by the a-la-carte system, so you are paying specifically for what you want. That could be assigned seating, checked and carry-on bags, or printing your boarding passes ahead of time.
Most airlines have everything baked into one fee, so you don’t ever think about overhead storage, seating position or “complimentary” food and drinks as extras.
The outrage aimed at United and other airlines for these pay-per-service systems seems a little misguided. The option is there if you want it, but, as of now, it will have no effect on most of us. And with the current state of the industry, these options will most likely become more prevalent sooner rather than later.
So if you ever see a headline that calls out an airline for committing an injustice to customers, do a little more digging before denouncing that airline. Watch for more airlines adding no-frills options in the coming year to compete with the changing industry. We’ll just have to wait and see how it affects us as passengers, if at all.
Have you tried any of the low-fare options when flying? Let us know your experience in the comments below.