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Airlines Are About to Make Flying Even More Painful

United Airlines LogoThe long waits. The difficult and intrusive security. The cramped feeling on flights. The nickle-and-diming checked bags and food items. Over-priced everything at airports. Now, this insanity is going to ratchet up to a new class of ticket below economy named “basic economy“. This new class of ticket appears to be finding widespread adoption among airlines, with United Airlines setting incredible new lows. If your last class ticket is with United expect no chance at seat selection, no access to the overhead bin, and be forced to board the plane last (and look like a cheapskate).

And clearly, no one was clamouring to be forced into seats 1, less baggage allowance and other concessions United describes as offering “more choice” So, what’s at work here? It seems clear that united and other airlines are looking for ways to grow revenue beyond current levels. They’ve probably seen most of the passenger population shift from checking bags to carry-ons and with it a drop in that revenue 2. Perhaps they want to replace it.

I see this causing several pain-inducing circumstances:

  1. Expect to face a gatekeeper for baggage. Currently, those that have no checked bags can pass relatively easily to boarding. Now, time will have to be spent ensuring that the “cheap” fliers are adhering to the rules. Expect delays and beyond overworked airline staff.
  2. Many more people will be kicked off flights for stupid reasons. More fighting between airline staff and passengers. This is always painful to watch.
  3. Respect for airlines will drop commensurate with the airline’s respect for passengers. This has already happened with checked bag fees, and more and more passengers will be belligerent or seek to push the envelope. Passengers will always pay for this.
  4. As the restrictions take hold, expect “full” economy tickets to rise in price.
  5. Other airlines will probably follow suit with baggage restrictions leading to vast amounts of free overhead space available. The airlines will then look to find ways they can monetize that too.
  6. Long-term, customer sentiment will not be “fly basic economy because it’s cheaper”, but “fly basic economy because the airline deserves as little of my money as possible, and flying is already hell”. Expect airlines not to tell the difference.
  7. Class-based flying that already exists will become worse, perhaps first class passengers will begin refusing to be on the same plane as last class.

For more reading, Without Bullshit takes a great look at the horrible PR spin and some unintended consequences with these changes. The Economist also looks at the possibility of “class rage”.

When booking your upcoming flight, extra careful when buying cheap tickets as you may be in this class and not know it. Isn’t it time airlines started treating passengers like human beings? It sure doesn’t seem like that will happen any time soon; and as a frequent travelers we should have reason to be disappointed.


  1. Middle seats, let's be real

  2. But, you know that since the cargo area is being freed up, airlines are making money by using that space for shipping goods. Win-win for the airline's bottom line.