Tag Archives: United Airlines

Where Luxury Lacks, Savings Abound with “Basic Economy” Fares; United to Test Low-Cost Option at MSP


Guest Post by Annie Flodin

As one of three major U.S. airlines committed to offering travelers low-cost tickets with fewer amenities, United will soon test its basic economy fares in Minneapolis.

And while signs point toward these fares becoming a regular fixture in commercial aviation – mainly as a way for larger airlines to compete with low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier – flying has certainly transformed over the last several decades.

Having worked as a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines in the 1970s and 1980s, when donning more fashion-forward uniforms and serving meals on china in first class were the norm, my mom says flying was more “glamorous” back then.

But now, she says, plane rides almost feel more like bus trips, which isn’t too surprising with the rise of discount airlines, and more recently with these low-cost fares. Delta is already offering the no-frills option, and recently American announced that they’ll begin offering basic economy fares in 10 select markets starting this month.

United first announced plans to offer basic economy fares last November, and in mid-January, President Scott Kirby said they would debut at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. “When you think of the number of flights coming in, the number of customers choosing United, and the airports… MSP was a great market to test this in," United Spokesman Jonathan Guerin said.

United basic economy fares provide the same onboard experience as standard economy with a few exceptions, most notably: you can’t choose your seat and full-sized carry-on bags are not permitted. But you are allowed one personal item that you must store underneath the seat in front of you.

Brett Snyder, who runs the popular Cranky Flier blog, sees basic economy as a good way for legacy airlines to offer low fares while stripping out amenities for those who don’t need them. “While this might mean an increase in the lowest selling fare that allows for carry-on bags and advance seat assignments, those fares aren’t really sustainable today,” he said.

And it’s no surprise that basic economy has received some pushback. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently voiced his concerns in a press release, citing the cheap fares as just another way for very profitable airlines to nickel and dime passengers. Through an upcoming FAA bill, he’ll push for new customer protections that “undo unfair policies” such as “banning” the free use of overhead bins.

The only issue is – the major airlines aren’t banning the free bin space because they’re not making you purchase a basic economy fare… it’s simply another option. These days, customers want choice and they want control, and that’s exactly what these fares are providing.

“There will always be pushback anytime the airlines do anything, even if it’s not bad,” Snyder said. “The reality is that you really shouldn’t buy these fares if you want a carry-on or a seat assignment, and the airlines will tell you that multiple times before you buy the ticket,” he added. “But people will still make that mistake and then complain.”

Another concern has been how airlines will keep track of those flying on basic economy fares. For United, Guerin said it shouldn’t be difficult, as it will be noted on your boarding pass and you’ll be in the last boarding group. This provides several opportunities for airport employees and gate agents to see if you have a full-sized carry-on, which will need to be checked and will be subject to the standard checked-bag fee. For domestic flights, you’ll pay $25 for your first checked bag and $35 for your second. But basic economy passengers who arrive at the gate with a full-sized carry-on will also need to pay a $25 gate handling fee.

United’s basic economy fares will go on sale during the first quarter of 2017, for travel during the second quarter. They’ll be available for routes between MSP and the airline’s seven U.S. hubs, eventually rolling out into other domestic markets.

Ultimately, while flying may not be the lavish experience it once was, it’s clear that the airlines have done their research in targeting this price-sensitive niche. Many people are just looking to get from point A to point B on the cheap, and now they have options outside of simply choosing a low-cost carrier.

Editor’s note: Annie will be contributing to the blog as I work with her to help her make the move into aviation writing. I’m happy to have her on the Aviation Queen team.

IMG_4438Annie Flodin is a seasoned communications professional and aspiring aviation journalist. She and her husband Scott live in Minneapolis with their two cats. In her free time, she enjoys plane spotting, writing, and spending time outdoors. She blogs at The Great Planes, and you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter: at @thegreatplanes.

Random Aviation Photo

Back in June, I got to spend the day at United Airlines’ Newark-Liberty International Airport’s Terminal C tasting to food at Little Purse, a noodle and dumpling restaurant that opened in August. You can read my story here. I also got to see the new seating area where United passengers will be able to eat, drink and be merry right at their boarding gate.  Enjoy!


Random Aviation Photos

A year ago, our family went to Tokyo for 10 days to celebrate Baby Digital’s 10th birthday. My poor family — I dragged them to Tokyo Narita Airport three hours early so I could take photos of all the world’s airlines parked at the gates.  Below is one I took of a United Airlines Boeing 747. And today is Election Day, so please don’t forget to vote!!


How United Airlines Celebrates Black History Month

To celebrate Black History Month, which ends today, I have been highlighting African-Americans who were pioneers in aviation. I was fortunate to grow up in the household of an Air Force officer, and had parents that emphasized black history before it was “a thing.”

Of course, one of my big heroines was Bessie “Queen Bess” Coleman, the first black person in the United States to get a pilot’s license. After being turned down by numerous flight schools in the U.S., she moved to France to take lessons and get her license. Coleman was the first person I put in the spotlight using the hashtag #BHM.

Among those who followed my #BHM tweets and Facebook posts were my friends at United Airlines.  A person from their communications team told me about one of many events being held by the carrier to celebrate Black History Month — guest speaker Gigi Coleman Brooms, the grandniece of Bessie Coleman, who spoke to employees based in Chicago. Another Chicago speaker (and another person I highlighted) was a United employee who was a cousin of William R. Norwood, the airline’s first African-American pilot.  

diversity jpg

On Feb. 24, United held “An African-American Multigenerational Discussion – Careers, Success and History,” moderated by Gregory Jones, the company’s Managing Director Diversity & Inclusion, along with panelists Brett Hart, Acting CEO; Christine Izuakor, senior analyst, Information Technology; James Simons, Chief Pilot NA Hubs & GUM; and Michelle Brown, Managing Director AO, Planning and Standards

Below is an interview I did with Jones.

Greg Jones of United Airlines.

Aviation Queen: Why is it important for United Airlines to acknowledge Black History Month?

Greg Jones: Black History Month is important because it’s also American history. Our approach to diversity is that we view it as a core leadership competency. By celebrating Black History Month, we get a better understanding of all employees in the United Airlines family. It’s part of our efforts of overall engagement when it comes to diversity.

AQ: How do you come up with the activities to celebrate the month?

GJ: The diversity and inclusion office coordinated activities with people in our hubs and in the field. These events are things employees want to do. They give us the ideas and we give guidance and support.  One thing we try to do is coordinate and try to have our leadership participate in all of these events.  Overall, these are very organic activities that are created by our employee base.

AQ: Who do you work with to implement these programs?

GJ: What we do in our office is note that we have dates coming up and we start working on ideas. We also get ideas from employees and the people they know.  We select ideas based on best ones or who we can get to participate.  When it comes to events like this, it’s rare that people won’t do it.  Last year we did an event with some Tuskegee Airmen in [our] Willis Tower [headquarters]. The really nice thing about all of this is it’s all grassroots.

AQ: How does the Executive Diversity Council work and how many members does it have?

GJ: Our council is a good one. I’ve worked in this area at several other companies, and ours is one of the strongest. Everyone on the council is at least a vice president, and we even have some direct reports to our CEO. They come from departments including operations, human resources and finance. The council serves as the strategic body for all things diversity in the company.  It fluctuates between 12 and 15 members. It meets every other month on strategy and execution. For example, the council was very helpful when we were looking at the same-sex marriage issue. We ended up supporting this issue, even filing an amicus brief about it.  

AQ: What does diversity mean to United?

GJ: When you think about it, we provide services to the world.  We have to have an understanding of the many communities we serve. What better way to get insight than to get it from the people who work for us?  Not being afraid of these differences is why diversity is important. Having diversity puts us in a position to better serve our customers.

We have five affinity groups: LGBT, Multicultural, Veterans Women, and Millennial. Our LGBT group was very helpful on educating us about same-sex marriage. Our Veterans group showed us how to effectively recruit and retain vets at United. And we recently launched the Millennials group, which will be very interesting. They will teach us what we need to do in order to get them to come and work at United.

Random Aviation Photo

In December 2014, I had the chance to go to New Delhi, India, to attend the bi-annual Star Alliance meeting. On the way there, I flew United Airlines to Zurich. I had a five-hour layover before my connecting flight on Swiss, so of course I went out on the patio at the premium lounge to take some pictures, including the one below. Enjoy!