United is finally announcing its new, long-awaited Basic Economy offering today, and that’s why this post is late. See, it was embargoed until 5am PT, so if I posted earlier, this would have been incredibly vague.
This is a lot like Delta’s Basic Economy in that it’s not a separate class. It’s just more restrictive than regular economy fares. And United is even more restrictive than Delta, because it won’t let you earn elite qualifying miles/dollars/segments, and non-elites can only bring a small “personal item” onboard. But there is more to discuss than just that, so this seemed like a good opportunity to try something new here.
In the next installment of my quest to try out different hands-free mediums, I’ll be going live on Busker at 11am PT/2pm ET today to talk about this in more detail. I’m hoping to answer some of your questions in real time, if you join in. I was briefed on this yesterday, so you should be able to learn a whole lot more from this discussion than from the press release (not that I’ve read it yet).
You can tune in by downloading the Busker app (Android/iOS) for free. You can also listen in on the web by going to this link, though you won’t be able to ask questions and submit comments there.
This is in lieu of the regular podcast this week, so let’s see what you think. Hope to see you all at 11am PT/2pm ET. (Yes, replays will be available.)
Well, at least no one can say UA is just mindlessly copying the competition anymore.
From the WSJ today:
“The basic economy class entitles fliers only to an under-seat bag and is also intended to avoid the delays caused by passengers stowing overhead baggage.”
Yeah, that’ll really speed things up. Everyone of these people will be arguing with the boarding agent about a carry on bag and how they didn’t know they couldn’t put one in the overhead bin.
I’d guess they make it very clear on the web during purchase process and during online checkin. Sure, there will always be people who argue. But I don’t see that any different from people arguing that their two steamer trunks should be allowed on.
Good point, Oliver.
I see that “Elites will be exempted.” Does that only apply to the bags, or will elites get to pick seats in advance and still earn miles? I’m curious, as our corporate travel system always picks the lowest fare class. I might have to “go rogue” and book on UA directly to avoid this fare for work!
Only bags and boarding group, I think.
I initially thought that also but passengers buying these tickets will not be able to choose their seats even with online check-in. Essentially they will be issued a type of “boarding” pass (online) that will tell them they must check-in at the airport and see an agent (at ticket counter) in order to get a seat. They cannot get through TSA Security without a seat number on a boarding pass.
At that time since they must check-in with an agent, one would hope the ticket counter and lobby agents will be eye-balling bags that passengers have with them and check them in accordingly. Otherwise the debate and time-wasting will continue at the gate. I still foresee the usual arguing, debating, “No one told me”, “that’s not what ‘it’ says”, etc. ad nauseam. Why United just can’t keep carryon rules the same (and that is bad enough); God forbid they should just be “DIFFERENT” instead of competing with no-name, low cost bus service !
I’ve been through TSA multiple times without a seat assignment without any trouble.
I also have concerns about how this will show up in my company’s corporate travel system. We use Concur. I did a quick check, and it does show the fare class and link to the rules and details, so hopefully these can be avoided. (There’s always the trick of narrowing down your search criteria until the flight you want shows up as the cheapest option, but fortunately I don’t have to resort to that. For my colleagues and me, our argument is that we need economy plus or a paid extra legroom seat so that we can work on our laptops even when the person in front of us slams their seat back into the recline position, and our company is fine with that. We don’t want any broken laptops on the road!
I wonder if even the agents will know who exactly is on this type of ticket. We all know some people will do anything to save a few bucks.
Yes they will know because purchasers of these tickets cannot get preassigned seats or online check-in. They have to see an agent to get a seat assignment(s), cannot get through the TSA checkpoint unless their boarding pass has a seat number — OOOORRRRR will passenger lie to the TSA and just get them to believe they will be assigned a seat at the gate ??? This is a horror for what ???…. to compete with Spirit and Frontier – what a dumb-down.
Full disclosure: As a United Million Miler and a 1K, I’m probably not covered by United’s latest change! Nonetheless, there’s some interesting trends this change represents.
First, Most of the folks covered by Basic Economy already are in United’s Boarding Group 5. As the last folks to board the plane, overhead space is gone and United is checking their bags for free. Now, United is getting paid for this service. It seems like paying for bags and the lack of assigned seats (which I wonder whether they get anyway) really is the only change. My experience long ago was that assigned seats (especially coveted aisle seats) were more or less blocked to low fare passengers anyway.
Second, for many leisure travelers, this further cheapens the United brand. For a significant segment of the flying public, there’s really no difference between United, Spirit Air, Sun Country and other discounters.
Maybe this is United’s way of saying, “just go fly Southwest?” At issue is whether most discount passengers have enough economic value to even worry about? Is this a revenue grab or is it another move to basically say, “thanks but no thanks… you’re better off elsewhere.” And, if so, how long will it be before United stops Mileage Plus accruals on very low end fares (sorry, Cranky, I don’t mean to give them ideas!)?
One additional thought — this really messes with families. Imagine you are a family of four traveling on United. You’re headed to MCO — the bastion of cheap flying — and you are not Premier Gold or higher. You want to sit together so you can make sure your four-year-old isn’t suddenly the ward of someone else. How is United going to handle this?
Any thoughts on what will happen with the parent is in 23 e and the four-year-old is in 29F. And, what happens when the four-year-old has to go to the bathroom? Or wants something to eat? Or, is simply bored?
Cranky, how is United going to work this one out?
Just don’t buy the absolute cheapest fare.
Status doesn’t help you here anyway. You do t get to select your seat even as a 1K or GS.
My 1K documents say I have automatic access to Economy Plus when I fly in coach regardless of fare. As I understand it, my million mile status makes me at least a Gold for life and gives me complimentary access to Economy Plus for life.
If that’s a major change, then wow. That’s huge.
As to families, easier said than done. Yes, you can avoid the most efficient fare. But really, that’s how families fly. And I promise, that’s going to be an issue, which is why I wonder whether United is chasing off this segment of the business.
Dave – You will not have access to E+ if you buy a Basic Economy fare. You can’t buy your way into it either.
As for families, I recall that it was in the last FAA reauthorization that airlines would be required to seat families together. United would be stupid if it didn’t treat that as if it was already the law.
looks like they’ll need to change the language on this page then, as it says that Premier Gold is entitled to complimentary access to E+ at time of booking. No notation on fare class.
Perhaps they can work around the FAA family mandate by placing restricted parameters on the fare class a la exit row seating (must be at least 15; capable of traveling on your own,etc)?
Is that legal for a fare bucket?
Eric – I don’t think so. Those are safety regs, and the airline doesn’t set them. I’m pretty sure that would be discrimination.
Years ago United used to have a dedicated agent look at flights 12-24 hours in advance and assign seats together for families. Since we can see who is actually ticketed (most likely to show up), how hard would it be for them to assign someone to do this – even 4-6 hours before a flight ? Then they could look at multiple name PNRs, determine if there are children (because the d.o.b. is there), and just pre-assign accordingly.
United (and other airlines) could spare themselves and families so much grief if they did this.
God forbid they should just be different and not dumb down to the lowest level (Spirit and Frontier). This will do nothing to endear people to fly United.
I’m sure there is a technological solution here, and if it becomes law, United will have to do it.