Time and time again, United has proven over the last few years that they really don’t want your business unless you fly a lot, and you want to use them every time. They’ve eliminated Economy Plus access to everyone but elite members of Mileage Plus. Not even elites of Star Alliance partner programs can get it anymore, nor can someone who pays a full fare to fly. The latest knock against non-elites involves a brand-spanking new $25 fee to check a second bag on domestic flights. Oh, where should we start on this one?
I suppose the good news here is that if you do buy an expensive refundable ticket, you may not get Economy Plus, but you won’t have to pay the fee for that second bag. Let’s be honest though, how many of those full fare business travelers are checking two bags anyway? Not many.
This is aimed squarely at the leisure traveler bringing presents home to grandma for the holidays. Or maybe it’s the college kid lugging his stuff out to school for the year. In other words, it’s the people who are likely price sensitive and pay in advance. For United, it’s just another possible revenue stream without any regard for the consequences of implementing such a fee. See, it’s not the $25 that bothers me but rather the added inconvenience that this brings. You can bet United wasn’t concerned about that.
Without question, this is going to make lines worse at the airport. Remember, it only applies to non-refundable fares.
So now if you check a second bag, the already underpaid and overworked ticket counter agent will have to check to see what type of ticket you’re flying on in order to determine whether to charge you the fee or not. What’s the chance the airline has invested in automation to automatically make that call? I think it’s a safe bet to say that’s not happening. Turns out, it’s pretty good. United spokesperson Robin Urbanski says that yes, “the system will be automated to determine whether the fee applies to the ticket. This automation will be integrated into the system that the customer service representatives use and the check-in kiosks.” I’m pleasantly surprised. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but this is just going to create more work for someone who won’t get a single extra dime for doing it. You think they’re motivated to do it right or quickly?
So life goes on for the elite members of Mileage Plus who can sail through their own lines, but what about the non-elites like me? Why would I ever fly this airline? If the fares are the lowest, maybe, but I haven’t seen United at the low end of fares in a long time.
If I’m not an elite, this just pushes me further toward Southwest, JetBlue, Frontier, Continental or even Virgin America, because they aren’t going to make my life miserable as a second class citizen. Sure, other airlines are likely to match this, but those will the usual suspects like American, Northwest, and Delta (and yes, maybe Continental). You know how those lemmings are.
United is definitely leading the way here in making its overall customer offering one of the worst around . . . if you aren’t an elite. They’re making it clear that they have more seats than their elites can fill, so they need you to pay up until they can find more elites. How else would they fund their next shareholder dividend?
Edited 12/18 @ 826a to reflect that United will be automating the process.