I read late last week in a post on Facebook that United didn’t allow Basic Economy customers to check in online and thought surely that was wrong. It turns out it isn’t wrong.
If you say you’re checking a bag when you check-in online, and pay for the bag, you can complete the check-in process. But if you say you aren’t going to check a bag, United won’t check you in and tells you to deal with it at the airport.
- That’s a problem. It means you need to be at the airport earlier, to make the check-in cutoff for the flight (which is going to be earlier than necessary compared to just going straight to the gate and making the flight.
- Not only does it waste a customer’s time, United is making it more likely that customers will miss flights.
The plausible reason for doing this other than making travel worse for the customer and other than requiring the customer to identify themselves with a ‘Scarlet B’ at the check-in counter is that United wants to make sure the customer really qualifies to travel without a checked bag.
Basic economy customers (except elites and co-brand credit card holders) are not permitted to bring a full sized carry on bag onto the plane, just a personal item. Usually that means having to check your carry on. So the idea must be to have a chance at the check-in counter to verify that the customer isn’t going to be bringing a bag to the gate that they’ll have to check there at a penalty rate.
Delays at the gate delay flights, and charging the customer at the gate would be an even worse customer service experience… for those customers who are traveling with a bag their fare doesn’t allow, not for those who aren’t.
Regardless United is using Basic Economy as a broad-based fare increase, albeit a complicated one, and is making travel difficult for anyone unwilling to go along with it.
And United claims that they’re so transparent about the restrictions on these fares that customers shouldn’t misunderstand, why is this necessary? And if being transparent is enough, why not just add a bolded and red popup as part of the check-in process but still allow Basic Economy customers to check in online?
Daryl Chua has a screen shot of what United tells Basic Economy customers trying to check-in online:
You are not checked in.
Travelers who purchased Basic Economy and have indicated that they’re not bringing a chceked bag need to see a United representative to complete their check-in. Once you arrive at the airport, visit an airport kiosk or check-in counter to verify your onboard bag allowance and receive a boarding pass. You may complete check-in online if you indicate that you’ll have a checked bag.
Perhaps this check-in restriction doesn’t apply to elite frequent flyers and co-brand credit card holders, but if it does just indicate you’re checking a bag, Basic Economy doesn’t take away your free checked bag allowance.
After all since it’s a benefit of the credit card, if United made the benefit contingent on your fare there would be regulatory problems with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
They can make elite benefits like upgrades contingent on your fare (no upgrades for Basic Economy customers, natch). But they can’t make free checked bags or priority boarding contingent because those are credit card benefits not merely elite benefits.