United Airlines probably did not anticipate the robust reaction to their proposed “Basic Economy” fare. CEO Oscar Munoz rolled out the product in the video announcement posted below. Purchasers get the lowest boarding priority, seats assigned only upon departure and no right to change bookings. The product also limits carry-on bags to one item small enough to be stowed under a seat instead of the overhead luggage bin (Daily Mail). Social media jumped all over this, and the announcement was misinterpreted as a decision by United to charge all passengers for the coveted overhead space. This prompted a testy denunciation by incoming US Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY). The resulting publicity even prompted fact-checking site Snopes to analyze the story.
In the short run, the market will eventually decide the fate of this initiative, as it does with everything else. But the intensity of the reaction should alert the industry that passengers, although attracted to bargains, are becoming increasingly resentful of the “nickel and dime” approach to amenities, and the increasingly startling comparison between what’s on offer up front and the cattle car experience in the cheap seats. Airline executives should remember that, despite the pro-business tilt of the incoming administration, Washington DC will generally respond to popular ire, from Donald J. Trump on down.
Image credit: Sqcelestar