In September, I took a United flight from Houston to Querétaro, Mexico, and decided to issue myself a new travel challenge: packing for an international vacation in a single, small carry-on bag that would fit under my seat. Little did I know I was actually preparing for the future.
United, which will forever be known to Houstonians as the company that killed Continental Airlines, announced this week it would be limiting its economy passengers to one piece of carry-on luggage—which must fit under their seat, not in an overhead bin—and holding off on introducing new Boeing planes into its fleet, all in an effort to reduce costs and/or compete with low-fare carriers like Spirit and Frontier. I'm not sure which matters less to the general public.
Additional restrictions announced for the year ahead: economy passengers will not be assigned their seats until the day their plane leaves, making it much more likely you'll be split up from your travel partner(s), nor will they be allowed to accrue miles towards elite status because apparently if you're consistently purchasing low-fare tickets you're not really "elite" enough for United.
Fortune reports that these changes, which the airline plans to implement beginning in 2017, will add an anticipated $4.8 billion to United's earnings by 2020. Houstonia anticipates a 500 percent increase in overall customer frustration, which should knock United right back down to the very bottom of the customer satisfaction pile where it typically resides.
“Customers have told us that they want more choice and Basic Economy delivers just that,” said Julia Haywood, United’s chief commercial officer, in an unintentionally hilarious news release, leaving the rest of us to imagine how these new strategies align with United's much-publicized quest to be less awful—but hey, at least they brought back the free snacks.
In related news, Texas-based Southwest Airlines continues to offer low fares, continues to allow its passengers to carry on two bags and check an additional two bags for free, continues to report record profits, and continues to rank at the top of customer satisfaction surveys.