When Not to Fly United Airline's Basic Economy

When Not to Fly United Economy

As a follow-up to my earlier post on flying United Basic Economy, I wanted to add a few caveats for those traveling with a companion or group. My first experience with United Economy took place under almost ideal conditions:

  • I was flying by myself.
  • Everything I needed for my trip could travel via backpack.
  • The plane was small, guaranteeing either a window or aisle seat. 

If you meet all of the above criteria, United Economy can be a cost saving and fairly painless experience. But add in travel with a companion or two and a larger plane with middle seats - well, it's a different ballgame. 

Many seem to be caught unaware of the restrictions placed on such tickets. Here are a few cautionary tips to keep in mind before you book:


When Not to Fly United Economy

If you are traveling with a group, there is no guarantee you will sit together. In fact, you won't know where you will be sitting until you check-in at the airport. For someone who frequently travels, and is used to the ease of a mobile app to check-in and check through security, this extra step is maddeningly archaic by today's standards. Just do not be surprised when your group of three is scattered throughout the plane - you have no control over this. The best you can hope for is a fairly empty plane which ups your chances of actually sitting in the same row as your travel companions. 


When Not to Fly United Economy

If the plane is full, you will likely be placed in the last few rows in the middle seat. Why? Because these are the seats that people who actually have option to choose their seat will not pick. Be prepared. My experience in the middle seat of the second-to-last row was miserable. I am a tall person (which means tall legs) and there simply is not adequate room to sit in any comfortable position. Just be mindful of this if you're on the taller side, especially as you cast an envious glance as those lounging in the emergency row. 


When Not to Fly United Economy

If you need to travel with more than a light backpack, make sure to factor in the cost of checking a bag into your ticket cost. While a United Economy ticket may seem cheaper at first glance, checking bags for two people (that you would've otherwise carried on for free) is an additional $50 each way. Travel + Leisure broke this down even further:

Show up at the gate with a standard carry-on bag with a Basic Economy ticket, and the airline will make you check your suitcase, resulting in a $50 added expense ($25 checked bag fee, plus a $25 handling charge).

Plus, who wants to wait at baggage claim for something you could have easily carried on in the first place?

My advice? Do not fly United Economy if:

  • You are traveling in a group.
  • You are picky about sitting in the middle seat and the airplane is larger than a small regional jet.
  • Your trip requires you to take more than a very light backpack. 

Your best defense is to be a smart traveler. Most airlines do a good enough job of alerting you to possible restrictions when you book. Pay close attention. See a list of restrictions on United Economy here. There is little excuse for turning up at the airport uninformed about what class of ticket you have purchased. Come prepared and avoid any needless stress.


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