Airlines drop fares for travellers who ditch their carry-ons
American Airlines and United hit back at low-cost carriers by launching a basic economy class where you can't bring hand luggage.
Over the years budget carriers have been making flight travel more affordable by offering cheap-as-chips fares that exclude extras such as checked-in luggage and in-flight meals.
Now American Airlines and United Airlines have taken a page out of their books by launching their own budget-friendly bare bones class. Named basic economy, this fare type features similar restrictions as budget carriers including unassigned seating and no checked-in luggage. It then shaves costs even further, by eliminating the carry-on bag so all you're allowed to bring are the clothes on your back and one personal bag small enough to fit underneath the seat in front of you.
For American Airlines, this under-seat bag cannot exceed 45 x 35 x 20cm, which is actually only 15cm off Australia's budget airline Tigerair's carry-on baggage dimensions of 54 x 38 x 23cm. However, United's baggage allowance is more restrictive at 43cm x 25cm x 22cm.
As with other budget airlines, if your bag doesn't meet the designated size requirements you must pay a fee for it to be checked-in. This is charged at $25 if checked-in at the counter or $50 if checked in at the gate for both airlines. Seems like a rip-off but compared to Australia's unbooked luggage charges which start at $50 per 15kg it sounds quite standard.
To ensure each bag is checked to comply with these rules, Basic Economy ticket holders aren't permitted to check in online but must check in at the airline's counter. They also need to check-in to be assigned their seat and will board last. This may be due to the low-cost fare, but more likely it's because their lack of overhead bin usage makes for a quicker boarding and seating.
The basic economy class is a new fare type and does not replace American Airlines and United's economy classes. These will still be available to book for those who can't quite squeeze all their travel necessities into a bag little larger than a shoe-box.
American Airlines launched its basic economy class on 10 February 2017 on select routes while United plans to launch its new low-cost class in the second quarter of 2017.