NEW YORK – U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged United Airlines to hit eject on a newly announced policy that will ban the use of overhead bins for travelers who purchase a “Basic Economy” ticket. According to media reports, the new effort would bring the airline an additional $1 billion in annual earnings by 2020. Schumer said that this proposed fare structure poses one of the most restrictive policies on airline passengers we have seen in a long time. With already-high ticket prices (despite ongoing record-low jet fuel prices), Schumer said that United Airlines should scrap its plan and continue to allow all consumers, in all fare classes, to utilize overhead bins for free when flying.
“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,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer.” “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. Already, airlines charge extra for checked luggage, pillows, peanuts, and headphones and now you’ll have nowhere to store them. United Airlines should reverse this plan and allow the free use of the overhead bin for all.”
United Airlines just announced that it would be launching a new “Basic Economy” fare structure, which has a number of restrictions that differ from the company’s “Economy” fare structure. First, “Basic Economy” customers may only bring one small item on board the plane: 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches. Schumer explained that this is much smaller than a typical carry-on bag. For instance, American Airlines and Delta Airlines currently allow carry-on bags that are 9 inches 14 inches x 22 inches. “Basic Economy” customers will be prohibited from utilizing the overhead cabin. Instead, these customers will need to put their item underneath a seat and pay for any checked baggage.
Second, “Basic Economy” tickets will be automatically assigned at check-in and not guaranteed that travelers on the same reservation will be seated together. Schumer said that, because of this new structure, families could be separated on board the plane.
Schumer explained that competing airlines also offer less-expensive options for customers, however, United Airlines’ new rule on carry-on luggage is among the most restrictive. For instance, Delta offers a “Basic Economy” fare that also limits seat assignments, only giving seat assignments to passengers after they check in, which could separate family members until the FAA establishes a policy, as directed in last year’s FAA bill, to allow children to sit with a family member at no extra cost; however, overhead bins are allowed to be used by all passengers.
The new policy means that no customer will have access to lower prices unless they are willing to forego the convenience of the overhead bin. Those same customers who do purchase the lowest price ticket face the likely scenario of being forced to pay to check a bag that was once free to carry-on. Schumer says this is a lose-lose for the flying public and represents a slippery slope that could negatively alter the policy on free use of the overhead bins for all fliers.
Carry-on bag fees differ from airline to airline. American Airlines allows one personal item and one carry-on at 22 x 14 x 9 inches. On Frontier, one personal item is included in the fare price and carry-on bags may be no larger than 24 x 16 x 10 inches, and charges vary based on when purchased. Spirit Airlines allows one personal item, included in the base fare and standard sized carry-ons need to be paid for.
Schumer has been an outspoken advocate for airline passengers and continues to fight against policies that unfairly hurt consumers. Earlier this year, Schumer successfully pushed back against efforts to reduce the size of carry-on luggage for travelers. The global trade association for the airline industry, known as International Air Transport Association (IATA), had proposed standardizing carry-on luggage to a size of 21.5 inches tall, 13.5 inches wide and 7.5 inches deep, which would reduce carry-on bag sizes by more than twenty percent. Schumer urged major airlines carriers to not adopt the proposed carry-on size policy. Similarly, in 2010, Schumer successfully fought back against an airline proposal to charge for carry-on bags. Schumer reached out to airline chief executives and urged them to reconsider the idea, and airlines heeded the call.