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United Airlines Introduces New Steerage – or, sorry – Basic Economy Class

Posted by bvalaw on December 8, 2016

In keeping with the holiday spirit, United Airlines just announced that starting in early 2017, it will charge for overhead space. So-called Basic Economy fliers will be limited to one carry-on, and it must fit under the seat. The valuable and limited overhead space will now be reserved for passengers purchasing higher fare tickets.

The lowest fare passengers will also no longer be able to reserve a seat in advance. This move obviously will enable the higher paying passengers to take the better seats. We wish families or others traveling in a group, and hoping to sit together on the plane, the best of luck, because it probably won’t happen. Is there any good news? Well for one thing, United Airlines hasn’t yet labeled this class as Steerage, and as such, these low paying passengers are still eligible to purchase food!

So what is all of this about? It’s a part of the major airlines’ continuing effort to increase revenues by unbundling their services. In other words, when a passenger purchases a low-fare ticket, he/she will get just that, and only that – the ability to fly on the plane. Any other extras, like checked baggage, carry-on baggage, food or drink, or premium seating, just to name a few are added on a la carte.

I calculated potential bag fees for a pretend flight from LAX to MIA for tomorrow as a general economy passenger. As long as the bags meet size (no more than 62 linear inches, L + W + H including handles and wheels) and weight (no more than 50 pounds) restrictions, the first bag is $25 and the second bag is $35 more. And, since the flight is long enough, my pretend passenger can pay $8.99 for the no-doubt delicious artisan cheese selection with a cup of wine for $7.99. That’s all just for one person. Again, good luck to families, who may be spread around in various areas of this section.

Bottom line is that any passengers needing legroom, seating together, food or drink, headphones, space for luggage – need to get ready to pay for it. To be fair, a number of low cost carriers have been doing this for a while now. But, United is the first major carrier to jump on board, and its new rules seem unusually restrictive. Plus, what’s next? One option raised by WHO Radio was whether passengers would be charged for oxygen. Perhaps a $50 surcharge anytime the oxygen masks drop, but only of course, if one chooses to use them.