New York Senator Chuck Schumer has looked into United’s Basic Economy fares, set to launch early next year, and he doesn’t like what he sees. He’s particularly outraged that the new ultra-low-priced fares will restrict customers to a single small carry-on, leaving the overhead bins for the exclusive use of those paying higher fares.
Here’s Schumer advocating for overhead-bin access, as quoted in the New York Post:
The overhead bin is one of the last sacred conveniences of air travel and the fact that United Airlines—and potentially others—plan to take that convenience away unless you pay up is really troubling. Air travelers are sick and tired of being nickel-and-dimed for every bag they carry and every morsel they eat by airlines that are already making sky-high profits. It seems like each year, airlines devise a new, ill-conceived plan to hit consumers and it has simply got to stop… United Airlines should reverse this plan and allow the free use of the overhead bin for all.
While United’s Basic Economy carry-on policy is more restrictive than Delta’s, which allows a full-sized bag in addition to a personal item, it is comparable to the policies of Spirit and Frontier, the ultra-low-cost carriers which were among the first to offer such no-frills fares. So United won’t be either the first or only airline to effectively charge for access to the overheard bin.
Precedent aside, it is a notably nasty policy, transparently designed to squeeze passengers for more money. The great majority of Basic Economy passengers will be forced to either pay extra to check a bag or pay extra to bring a bag on board.
In the end, though, it will be pressure from the marketplace, not from Chuck Schumer, that will push United to either retain or ditch the new carry-on policy. Delta’s more customer-friendly rule will certainly put competitive pressure on United to liberalize its policy. But the reverse is also true: United’s restrictive policy will give Delta license to adopt a similarly harsh rule.
Reader Reality Check
How do you expect this to play out: Will United’s policy be the industry standard, or Delta’s?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.