Basic Economy Flyers Are Using Overhead Bins — But Should They?

Dec 5, 2017

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Unfortunately, basic economy is becoming the new normal in the airline industry. The three major US carriers have been rolling it out on more and more routes this year, much to our dismay.

Billed as a way for customers to save money, it lets people buy cheaper fares and forego things like seat selection, priority boarding and the ability to bring a full-size carry-on bag. Our United and American basic economy reviews show that basic economy should usually be avoided, though Delta’s was a bit more tolerable.

The implementation of basic economy has been rocky and we’ve heard from readers that airline staff doesn’t always enforce the new rules. Inspired by a TPG Lounge Post complaining about the behavior of basic economy flyers using the overhead bins despite not being allowed to, we delve into some flyers’ complaints — and the airlines’ policy.

So, can BE passengers use the overhead bins for items they are allowed to bring aboard, like a purse or backpack?

The answer is relatively simple — Delta allows BE flyers to bring a full size carry-on, so those flyers are entitled to using  the overhead bin for their luggage. Both American and United charge for this option, which means that BE passengers aren’t allowed to stow whatever they please in the overhead bins — unless they paid for that.

American says that you get “one item that fits under the seat in front of you (no access to overhead bins)” while United’s policy’s states “you are allowed one small personal item that fits under the seat in front of you.” Although United’s policy doesn’t explicitly state that you can’t use the overhead bins, we reached out to the airline for clarification — it responded by saying that your luggage must be stored underneath the seat in front of you.

Despite American and United’s restrictive rules, comments in the TPG Lounge reveal that airlines aren’t enforcing these rules all the time.

Many commenters had the same question as Shane D. There’s confusion because regular economy passengers board before BE flyers, and thus there shouldn’t be an issue with filled overhead bins. However, even AA elites are finding that BE passengers are using the bins to store their luggage, leaving less room for those who paid more for Main Cabin tickets.

Anthony L. says that this makes perfect sense, and that it would be difficult for an airline to enforce a policy like this.

Once on board the aircraft — it may be hard to check who is and who isn’t a basic economy passenger.

This policy was a surprise to many commenters, including David K., who said he plans on putting his personal item in the overhead bins regardless of the rules.

But, David B. argues that those who pay for the right to use that space should be entitled to have space in the overhead bins.

Is it right for the airlines to restrict overhead bins only to people who paid more money for their ticket? Although it’s frustrating, it’s now policy on some airlines. They also argue that thanks in part to basic economy, passengers are paying less than they ever have before for plane tickets.

Carriers such as Alaska, JetBlue and Southwest haven’t implemented basic economy. And for those still flying on the big three legacy carriers, there are still ways to defeat restrictive basic economy rules through holding an airline’s co-branded credit card.

Make sure you join the TPG Lounge to chime in on more travel hacks, tips and news.

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