On 6 December 2016, articles appeared reporting that the days of free overhead bins on United Airlines are over, in yet another cost-cutting measure for the company:
Gone are the days of the free sandwiches, the complimentary pillows, the headphones that didn’t cost $5. The in-flight comforts that were once a given are now nothing more than a nostalgic reminder of decades past.
Out went the free checked bag, in came the fees for those few extra inches of leg room. Want to make sure you sit next to your children on a flight? On some airlines, there’s a fee for that.
Now, on United Airlines, you won’t necessarily get the use of an overhead bin without paying more money.
The overhead bin: “one of the last sacred conveniences of air travel,” as an angry Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) put it Sunday as he denounced the move.
Although both articles noted in the body text that the airline might charge a fee, or that the claim was part of a new ticket option, attention-grabbing headlines were all that many people spotted. Rumors quickly kicked up suggesting that United Airlines was in the process of implementing a specific “overhead bin” fee applicable to all passengers:
Representatives on social media explained that the claims were inaccurate:
The outcry appeared to stem from the introduction of a new fare class called “Basic Economy,” an optional form of ticketing with some restrictions:
While Basic Economy fares have some important, additional restrictions compared to standard Economy fares, customers will enjoy the same United Economy® cabin experience and services, including dining options, Wi-Fi and inflight entertainment. However, the following differences do apply:
• Automated seat assignments will be given at check-in, and passengers acknowledge at the point of a multi-seat purchase that seating together is not guaranteed.
• Carry-on bags are limited to one personal item, unless the customer is a MileagePlus® Premier® member, primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card, or Star AllianceTM Gold member.
• There will be no voluntary ticket changes except as stated in the United 24-hour flexible booking policy.
• MileagePlus program members will earn redeemable award miles; however they will not earn Premier qualifying credit (miles, segments, or dollars), no lifetime miles, and no contribution to four segment minimum.
• Customers will not be eligible for Economy Plus® or premium cabin upgrades.
• Customers will board in the last boarding group (currently Group 5) unless a MileagePlus Premier member, primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card, or Star Alliance Gold member.
The restrictions imposed in the optional new class of fare pared the traditional “carry on and a personal item” down to one personal item. However, no restriction was imposed on placing that item in the overhead bin. United noted that the fare is one flyers can select, but travelers still have the option of choosing a fare with additional baggage included:
We contacted United via Twitter and e-mail, but have not yet received a response.