Published 1:41 PM EDT Oct 17, 2018
United Airlines will continue its ban on carry-on bags for travelers buying its cheaper basic economy tickets, despite a recent policy change by rival American Airlines.
"We're happy with where we're at,'' Andrew Nocella, United's executive vice president and chief commercial officer, said on the airline's earnings conference call Wednesday.
Nocella said basic economy, which United, American and Delta unveiled in the past few years to better compete with discounters including Spirit and Frontier, is working as designed and that there are no plans to change the bag policy.
Delta Air Lines has allowed a standard carry-on bag with basic economy tickets from the start. American and United introduced their basic economy tickets with a carry-on bag ban. Travelers were allowed to bring only a personal item, such as a purse, backpack or laptop bag, that fit under the seat. All other bags had to be checked for a fee. Those who waited until they got to the gate were hit with standard bag fees plus a surcharge of $25.
American reversed its policy in September.
The airline said it was losing business from budget travelers on sites like Google Flights, where travelers can filter results by amenities including a free carry-on bag. Travelers buying American's basic economy tickets can now bring a personal item as well as a standard carry-on bag for the overhead bin. Delta has the same policy.
United's bag policy for basic economy tickets will continue to allow only a personal item. The airline polices this by restricting check-in options for basic economy travelers, something American did not do when it had a carry-on bag ban.
Basic economy travelers can only check-in for their flight online or through the United app if they indicate they are checking a bag. Basic economy passengers who try to check in online and say they aren't checking a bag are directed to complete check-in at the airport, where employees check the size of their carry on.
The policy confuses and angers some travelers.
United says the policy is designed to make sure travelers are following its basic economy baggage rules and to prevent them from having to pay a surcharge at the gate.
When discussing basic economy on Wednesday's earnings call, Nocella suggested the airline's approach has reduced last-minute bag checks at the gate, which can delay flights.
"We continue to be pleased with the operational benefits of our bag policies,'' he said.
Basic economy tickets on United, Delta and American come with other restrictions, including no advance seat assignment, late boarding and no changes or refunds. Unlike Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant, though, basic economy passengers still receive free drinks and snacks and, where applicable, in-flight entertainment.
Still, whether a carry-on is allowed or not, basic economy customers on American and Delta are in the last group to board. That means overhead bin space is often already gone by the time they make it onto the plane.
More: Basic economy: What it's like in airlines' cheap seats
JetBlue: Basic economy fares coming in 2019
United rolls out a new boarding process
United grows at hubs