The Ridiculous New Carry-On Rule You'll Be Dealing With Soon

(Fort Worth Weekly, 360 West via AP)

United Airlines has announced some sneaky little changes to their bottom-rung fares that will make traveling economy even worse than it already is. In a press release late last year the company introduced “Basic Economy” fares in order to “provide more options to price-sensitive travelers.” That’s a euphemism for “we are trying to provide an economy experience that feels like steerage on the Titanic.”


While customers who pay the lowest fares to their destinations will still receive food and beverages (not much more than an oyster cracker on most domestic flights these days) and access to Wi-Fi, there will be some “key differences.” For customers with “Basic Economy” tickets:

  • Automated seat assignments will be given at check-in, and traveling companions will not be guaranteed seats together
  • MileagePlus program members will not earn Premier qualifying credit, lifetime miles, or contribution to four segment minimums
  • Customers will board in the last boarding group (currently Group 5)

Those are all bad enough (although there’s something to be said for being confined to the plane for the least amount of time possible), but it’s the last “key difference” that has United customers howling:

  • Carry-on bags are limited to one personal item

More specifically the rule says you’ll be allowed to bring “a small personal item on board, such as a shoulder bag, backpack, laptop bag or other small item that is 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches or less.” No full-size carry-on bags will be allowed.


“The new offering provides the added benefit for customers and employees of simplifying the boarding process, as fewer customers will bring overhead bags on board,” United said in the press release.

“Customers have told us that they want more choice and Basic Economy delivers just that,” said Julia Haywood, executive vice president and chief commercial officer.

Anyone who travels regularly knows that flights never seem to have enough room for everyone’s carry-on bags. Before you board, the airlines beg you to check your bag through to your destination. If that doesn’t work, they stop you on the jetway and confiscate your larger luggage there. If you remain unconvinced about the benefits of parting ways with your bag (and you’re unlucky enough to be in boarding group three or worse), anything not clutched your arms is at risk of being stowed ten rows behind your seat, which will delay your already interminably long debarkation. 

Basic Economy fares will be available in select markets. When available, you’ll see the option on your flight search results page whether you book directly through United or use another ticketing option. Even though the price will be lower for the Basic Economy fares, you’ll still have pay $25 if you end up checking a bag. So unless you can fit everything for your trip into a backpack, you many not save anything with this bare bones ticket.


In addition to the Basic Economy fare, United will also offer a regular “economy” fare, Economy Plus, and domestic first class. The company said it is also “evaluating a new premium economy experience” for domestic and international markets.



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