Basic Economy, real penalties

United’s new Basic Economy passengers are for an unpleasant surprise if they show up at the gate with a carry-on bag. The new, no-frills fare category from the carrier allows for only a personal item sized to fit under the seat, not a traditionally 20″ rolling suitcase. And, while there has been plenty of debate about how well that can or will be enforced, it seems that the company has decided on what the penalty for non-compliance will be, should passengers be caught.

Not only will Basic Economy passengers be expected to pay for checking the bag at the prevailing rates (currently $25/$35 for first and second bag on domestic routes) but there will also be a “convenience fee” added if travelers choose to check the bag at the gate rather than at the ticket counter.

In other words, when you get caught trying to cheat the system expect to pay an extra $25 on top of the checked bag fee. And hope that it gets sorted out quickly so that you don’t end up missing the flight.

Put another way, don’t try to cheat. You’re very likely to get caught and very likely to find the outcome of that unpleasant.


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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. But this depends on United’s agents who aren’t robots. Don’t you think sometimes they will just quikcly gate check the bag to try to get the flight out. But agree is a #RaceForTheBottom type move.

  2. Having the fine is an essential part of the aim to a) de-clutter the cabin and b) differentiate the product. Other airlines do the same and it works for them, so why not for UA? After all, if paying the fine isn’t practical in the time-frame, then just bump them off the flight and waitlist them for the next flight.

    1. Agreed, and I have no problem with the penalty as such. This was just the first I’d heard of it actually being defined so figured I’d share.

  3. That trend is spreading. I was ‘pleasantly’ surprised (NOT) when I was told Star Gold benefits didn’t apply on the checked bag on my LH flight.

    1. No *G free checked bag on HBO fares in Europe has been a thing for a while now. I think maybe early 2015 that started. I’m looking at a HBO fare on SN in a couple weeks and need to keep my carry-on below 12Kg to make that work.

  4. Do we know how the GA will know it’s a basic economy fare? I’m guessing when they scan the boarding pass it will somehow alert the GA?

    I think UA is smart to have these fares, but I do not envy the gate agents during the first few months of implementation. I can just imagine the altercations between uninformed basic econ passengers and gate agents. I hope UA uses 50-font on their website when passengers buy & check in for these fares.

    1. While we do not specifically know what the BP will show I’ve been led to believe that the Basic Economy designation will be incredibly clear on the BP and in the systems. At a minimum these passengers will be relegated to the last boarding group, separate from everyone else.

      As for making it clear during the purchase and check-in process, I’ve seen the way Delta identifies its BE fares. And I’d like to believe that passengers aren’t going to legitimately be able to claim they didn’t know. But that won’t stop some from trying to cheat.

    1. Agreed. People buying these fares are probably the last boarding group anyway that never got overhead space for their rollaboards and had to check them since overhead bins were already full. Now they’ll just be making them pay to check them.

  5. What happens if you get a seat with an entertainment box under it, so the personal item can’t fit? Now it’s checked… Is that free?

    1. I really do not believe that’s true, at least with the airlines selling the Basic Economy products today (UA is not yet). Even the OTAs are warning passengers of the limits with Delta’s basic fares now.

      Passengers who have no clue by the time they get to the gate are getting to that point by clicking past numerous warnings. At some point we have to expect that people will take responsibility for their own actions.

    2. Seth I guess you’re right about that. I personally haven’t booked those fares but when booking through 3rd party sites, luggage isn’t always up to date.

    3. Seth is that always the case when booking ‘other’ than at

      Delta’s website for direct bookings makes it crystal clear – and I applaud them for that.

    4. David: There were problems in the past where OTAs did not call the fares out sufficiently. They’ve gotten much better about it of late. Here’s what Expedia shows now if I pick a DL Basic Economy fare.

  6. Anything that addresses the current ridiculous state of hand luggage on US aircraft is a good thing in my opinion. The challenge will be when a third party (parent, relative or significant other) does the bookings and doesn’t convey the restriction to other travellers.

    Hopefully they have a warning added to the kiosk / app during the checkin process also which allows them to buy and check in the luggage at that time also.

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