Have you ever watched Titanic and thought “man, this movie is great, but I wish I could live out my own fantasy of taking a long journey in steerage?” Good news: You may not be able to enjoy fifth-class accommodations aboard a luxury liner, but you can get the experience of being poor in the sky, thanks to American Airlines, which will begin charging passengers for, you know, everything, once February hits.
Before we even get into American’s new and exciting fare schedule, we’ve got to look at a little bit of history here. Nah, we’re not going all the way back to when flying was fun and comfortable, but back to November, when United Airlines joined the ranks of Spirit Airlines and RyanAir, claiming that customers wanted “more options.”
These options include the privilege of paying a bit less for your plane ticket in exchange for not being allowed a carry-on and not being allowed to choose your own seat, meaning, of course, that it’s always going to be you in the middle seat. Doesn’t even matter if the plane is empty; they’ll stuff you in a middle seat and then have two flight attendants come sit on either side of you just so you don’t start getting any big ideas about being a regular passenger. (That last part is speculation, but not too far fetched.)
We get it: Airlines aren’t as profitable as they were before and they’ve got to get butts into those seats if they want to keep providing a service, but how long will we put up with all this tomfoolery before we collectively decide to just take Megabus across the country and see the sights while we enjoy the free Wi-Fi?
“So what about American?” You’re asking yourself right now, “what are they doing?” Here’s a helpful excerpt from Consumerist, which will (sadly) explain the airline’s new Basic Economy option:
• Seating assignments are made automatically and only when customers check in. If you want to choose where you sit, you can pay to pick your spot 48 hours before the flight.
• No upgrades, regardless of elite status level.
• Only one personal carry-on item that fits under your seat is allowed — that means no overhead bin luggage. If you do bring something like a rollerboard bag or larger carry-on, it must be checked at the ticket counter for the applicable checked-baggage charge. That means you’ll incur regular checked baggage charges plus a $25 gate service charge per bag if you bring more than the one under-the-seat item.
That being said, elite customers and eligible AAdvantage credit cardmembers will be allowed to bring one personal item, one rollerbag, and maintain their current free checked bag allowance.
That does sound like a lot of options, but what if I’m a person who needs more? American’s thought of that, too. They’re requiring that Basic Economy ticket-holders board last (unless they’re elite members), tickets will be completely non-refundable (and there will be no standby option), and those trying to get Elite status will have to work harder to get there, as each Basic Economy ticket will only count for half of the points a higher-priced ticket would. You want to use the overhead bin? You’re going to have to shell out the money for it.
It’s important to note that this could be a great idea for people who have to fly in and fly out the same day — when all you need is a laptop and a charger — but it’s going to be harder for those who have a long way to go. A crying baby in regular economy is annoying and frustrating; imagine how terrible it will be to sit next to one as you languish in Basic Economy, knowing you have no recourse except to close your eyes and pray for sleep.
One person not taking this sitting down (while not being able to recline because the person behind you digs their knees into your back every time you move even a centimeter) is Senator Chuck Schumer, who’s going after American and United for their decisions:
Schumer says he’s worried other airlines will soon follow suit, and that someday all passengers may have to pay extra for access to the overhead bins.
“You don’t have to know how to read the tea leaves to see that when it comes to new airline fees, the future looks turbulent for consumers,” Schumer said. “Yet again, and as predicted, another major airline just made it harder for everyday consumers to fly by banning the free use of the overhead bin for some travelers.”
American responded by saying that Basic Economy was their way of offering consumers more choices — from rags to insane luxury — while remaining competitive, but Schumer’s not buying it.
Is traveling without being offered a plastic cup of Ginger Ale next? Or will we all just be staying home?