United Airlines VP Andrew Nocella said "We're happy with where we're at," on Wednesday when the company announced its quarterly earnings as well as some other changes to airline service. As the bubbly continues to settle in the stomachs of company brass, apparently happy with making more than $800 million in the third quarter of 2018, those sentiments won't exactly be shared with folks who book basic economy flights.
Passengers who book that option have discovered that they'll continue to be short-changed over not being allowed to bring their carry-on baggage for free. The consensus from United is that basic economy was an option created by the airline and its major rivals to compete against smaller discount companies like Frontier and Spirit. To United, the third-quarter profit is a sign that the introduction of basic economy is doing well enough not to rescind the policy.
The no carry-on policy is one that's shared with American, which has also reaped enough dividends with introducing basic economy that it plans to expand the option to more of its routes. Meanwhile, Delta and Southwest still allow basic economy passengers to bring a carry-on.
United's line of reasoning for continuing the ban seems to be in lockstep with boarding sequence and cabin space. Since basic economy is the last batch of passengers to board a flight, it's likely that by the time they're about to be seated (in seats they can't choose, by the way), overhead compartments will already be full, having been stuffed by earlier passenger arrivals willing to pay for carry-on. The logic is if you want to bring carry-on, buy a ticket that's worth more than basic economy.
However, all airlines do allow for passengers to bring aboard one personal item as long as it easily fits underneath the seat in front of them. That suits single-day trippers fine, who say they don't need to carry much in the first place. But those who plan to be traveling for days are upset over the policy, especially when they face other charges (plus a $25 surcharge) requiring baggage that's stored in the cargo compartment of the plane.
Consumer advocates advise reading the fine print when it comes to booking economy flights while considering how much luggage will be brought. Then do the math and decide whether moving up a tier that allows for free baggage service is better than booking a basic economy seat. Because chances are, a lot of bean counters at United did their own math to ensure basic economy added a few cushy margins to their profit line this year.