US airline to charge passengers extra for use of overhead bins
United Airlines, one of the world’s largest carriers, is facing fresh criticism over plans to charge passengers extra for the use of overhead lockers.
The airline, which welcomed almost 139 million passengers in 2015, will introduce a new “basic economy” fare in 2017.
Those who opt for the cheapest ticket will be allowed to travel with a single small item of luggage, measuring no more than 9” x 10” x 17” (23cm x 25cm x 43cm), but they must place it under a seat and not in the overhead bins.
They will also be automatically allocated a seat on the day of departure, meaning passengers on the same ticket could be forced to sit apart.
United claims the move, announced last month, does not amount to a new fee. Those who want to stow their hand luggage overhead can still do so if they choose the standard economy fare, it says.
But those who choose the cheapest fare are unlikely to be making any savings. According to Reuters, basic economy fares “will be comparable to low fares it now charges for the economy cabin, but with more restrictions”.
United expects the changes to raise around $1bn by 2020.
Those choosing a standard economy fare, it is therefore reasonable to assume, will be expected to pay significantly more than they do now.
Travellers reacted with anger over the decision, with some calling for a boycott of the airline, and now the outcry has reached US Congress.
“It’s one of the most restrictive policies on airline passengers we have seen in a long time,” said Chuck Schumer, a New York Senator.
“The overhead bin is one of the last sacred conveniences of air travel and the fact that United Airlines – and potentially others – plan to take that convenience away unless you pay up is really troubling. It seems like each year, airlines devise a new, ill-conceived plan to hit consumers and it has simply got to stop.”
Hardest hit by the changes, which will be introduced in the first quarter of 2017 for travel in the second quarter and beyond, could be those travelling with children as they generally carry more luggage. Elderly passengers who need to wheel their cases could also be affected more than most.
United is not the first airline to charge extra for carry-on luggage.
Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz, for example, permits passengers to carry a small item of luggage (25cm x 32cm x 42cm) for free, but charges for larger cabin bags (typically around £16 per flight). Those smaller bags can however, space permitting, be placed in overhead lockers.
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