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United's New Basic Economy Fare Is Going To Make Travel Even Harder For Parents

by Cameron Norsworthy

Soak up this season's comparably worry-free holiday travel, because next year could be a completely different beast. One airline is changing the game and, in some parents' eyes, appears to unintentionally be making things a lot more difficult for families in the process. United Airline's new Basic Economy fare will disallow customers from bringing carry ons that can't be stowed under the seat going forward — among a litany of other relatively small, but impactful changes.

Additionally, customers who purchased fares through Basic Economy won't be allowed to select their seats, even in the event that tickets are purchased as a group. All those who purchase Basic Economy, which will be around the same price that passengers pay for regular Economy fares currently, will board last, with the final boarding group, unless you're boarding with a child age three or younger. Romper reached out to United as to how these restrictions might impact traveling parents and spoke with representative Jonathan Guerin on the matter, who stated: "If it’s important for your party or your family to sit together, then Basic Economy is not the option you would want to choose."

As "the first big U.S. airline to limit low-fare customers to one carry-on bag," United's Basic Economy somewhat limits a family's flexibility. As mentioned, seat selection is totally off the table when buying Basic Economy. United's website explains the process:

When you choose a Basic Economy ticket, your seat will be automatically assigned at check-in, with no opportunity to change it. Based on when seats are assigned, we're not able to guarantee that travelers on the same reservation will be seated together. If there are people in your group who need to sit together, this fare may not be the best option for you.

United nearly acknowledges that Basic Economy won't be practical for families in the above statement, thus limiting the scope of its offerings, although there are secondary options available to parents, for a slightly higher price. Julia Haywood, United’s COO, explained that Basic Economy is actually meant to offer more flexibility:

United’s customers have told us that they want more choice and Basic Economy delivers just that. By offering low fares while also offering the experience of traveling on our outstanding network, with a variety of onboard amenities and great customer service, we are giving our customers an additional travel option from what United offers today.

Haywood's "low fare" promise has struck some as troublesome, however; As previously mentioned, United President Scott Kirby noted that "Basic Economy fares likely will be similar to the lowest fares United currently offers," according to The Chicago Tribune. Ultimately, the company appears to be looking to up-sell customers to a slightly pricier ticket with added fees: On top of the standard, lowest fare, passengers will now be paying extra funds for carry-ons. "The new airfare is part of a strategy the company outlined Tuesday to investors to boost its earnings by $4.8 billion by 2020," CNN observed.

These procedural changes will take affect in regards to booking flights in the first quarter of 2017, impacting actual flights that are scheduled for the second quarter of next year. If you have a traveling family, copious carry-ons, and the means, avoid Basic Economy fares if possible. "Families should look at Economy ticketing instead, where you can select seats together and have more options," Guerin offered. It's unfortunate that families feel forgotten in efforts to bolster profits and change the air travel game, but, hey — at least you'll still get an in-flight snack.