American Airlines’ new “basic economy” fare: No access to overhead bins and last in line to board

Your bag must fit under the seat in front of you.
Your bag must fit under the seat in front of you.
Image: Courtesy American Airlines
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Last November, United Airlines shocked the traveling public when it unveiled a low fare class that doesn’t allow passengers to use the overhead bins.

So, naturally, another airline is doing the same.

American Airlines, the largest US airline, announced today its own basic economy class. In exchange for a lower fare, passengers will give up many perks they’ve taken for granted for decades. Seats will be assigned at check-in (who doesn’t love to shimmy into 35B?), passengers will board last, upgrades, changes and refunds will not be permitted. Snacks and soft-drink access will remain the same. Overhead bins? Also off limits. Passengers’ carry-on bags have to fit under the seat in front of them or they will have to pay $25 to check it. The list is nearly identical to what United announced in November.

When airlines launch plush new business-class cabins they tout the enticingly long list of amenities passengers will get, from lobster mac-and-cheese to private pods. A basic economy launch is about what you’re not getting.

American declined to say just how much cheaper a basic economy ticket will cost compared with a regular economy fare. The new fares go on sale in February, American said. ”Multiple disclosures will spell out the attributes of a Basic Economy ticket at the time of purchase on, and when utilizing the airline’s reservations phone centers or when booking through a travel agent or online travel site,” said American’s announcement.

The push for rock-bottom airfares with amenities to match is part of airlines’ effort to segment the cabin into smaller groups. In addition to basic economy, airlines have rolled out premium economy, a sort of business-class lite, which offers passengers perks like early boarding, a better menu and amenities kits that can include socks and noise-cancelling headphones, in addition to more legroom. Tickets can cost twice as much as regular economy.

For those lamenting the loss of guaranteed overhead bin access (a myth in itself), one side effect could be faster boarding. Anyone who’s traveled by air knows that the only thing that takes longer than the security line is the time it takes for passengers to find the perfect overhead bin space.