In Defense of United Charging “Basic Economy” Passengers for Overhead Space

December 7th, 2016

Recently, United announced that passengers will be able to buy discounted tickets, known as “Basic Economy,” but there are two primary conditions: first, you are not assigned a seat until you check in; second, passengers will not be allowed to stow carry-on bags in the overhead compartment–bags must fit below the seat.

On cue, Senator Chuck Schumer found something else he wants to ban.

“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,” Schumer wrote. “It seems like each year, airlines devise a new, ill-conceived plan to hit consumers and it has simply got to stop.”

My general rule of thumb is that whatever Chuck Schumer wants to ban, I support. Once again, my rule carries the day.

To prove my point, I must flash back to December 16, 2009, in one of my earliest blog posts, when Senator Schumer called a flight attendant a “bitch” because she made him turn off his phone before takeoff. (It is unclear if Billy Bush and Access Hollywood had a secret recording).

Schumer asked if he could finish his conversation. When the flight attendant said “no,” Schumer ended his call but continued to argue his case.

He said he was entitled to keep his phone on until the cabin door was closed. The flight attendant said he was obliged to turn it off whenever a flight attendant asked.

“He argued with her about the rule,” the source said. “She said she doesn’t make the rules, she just follows them.”

When the flight attendant walked away, the witness says Schumer turned to Gillibrand and uttered the B-word.

But moments after the flight attendant had told Schumer to shut it off, the phone rang again.

“It’s Harry Reid calling,” the source quoted Schumer as saying. “I guess health care will have to wait until we land.”

You see, when it comes to passing Obamacare, Senator Schumer is fine with delaying everyone else on the flight. (In hindsight, December 19 was a pivotal date, as the Senate was on the cusp of voting for the ACA).

The primary reason why I support this new option is because it will speed up boarding. If you have taken a United flight in the last few years, you will be familiar with this message: “If you are in Zones 4 or 5, you will not be able to bring you bag on board. Please check it at the gate.” Without fail, on every sold-out flight, roughly 40% of the passengers are not able to check their bag in the overhead. Yet, they attempt to do so anyway. So much time is wasted as passengers go up and down the aisles, often blocking the boarding process, trying to find overhead storage where there is none. Ultimately, all the extra bags are brought to the front of the plane, and they are checked at the gate. This wastes so much time, and adds to the stress of flying. Forcing more people to check their bags–here though offering a discounted ticket–is a smart move.

Also, the bag-check fee is $25. So long as the difference in price between the “Basic Economy” and the “Economy” tickets is more than $25, this will be a worthwhile deal. (If you sign up for a United credit card, you board in Zone 2, and the check-in fees are waived).

The much bigger inconvenience is that you do not have a reserved seat. But if you are travelling alone, and don’t care where you sit, this could be a way to save money.