While my second dinner (seriously, I am worse than a hobbit) was disappointing, my trip to Monterey was amazing. I ate some great food, saw some breathtaking views, and got to see some amazing sea life. But all things must come to an end, and I missed my wife. So it was time to take my United Basic Economy flight home.
In October, United ran a great Basic Economy deal from San Francisco to Seattle. My one way ticket on United cost $54.20. Flights from seattle to generally run about $137 R/T. So if you can find something under that price it is a pretty good deal. I booked this through Chase Ultimate Rewards because at the time I was hoping to keep all of my flight reservations in one location. However, this deal I was able to book directly through United as well as all major online travel agents like Expedia or priceline if I chose.
United’s Basic Economy is bar none the most restrictive and customer unfriendly basic economy out there. The restrictions are as follows:
- Only earn 1/2 of the miles that you would earn on a normal economy flight (this includes qualifying miles if you are are after status with the airline).
- You do not earn elite qualifying dollars (this has since been changed).
- No seat selection even at check-in. So if you are traveling with kids you will not be seated together.
- You cannot access the overhead bin. Your one carry on must fit under the seat in front of you.
- You cannot make Flight changes or obtain refunds.
- Boarding last.
- You cannot check in online.
If you book through United, they make sure you are aware of these issues prior to booking, but what they don’t mention is that they treat you like cattle.
United Basic Economy Check-In
In United Basic Economy you are not allowed to check in online unless you pay for a bag. If you attempt to check in online you will be hit with an error message telling you to check in at the airport. Upon arriving at the airport, I went to United’s Kiosk. Once I selected I had no bag to check, an alert pops up that an agent will come by to take your carry-on an ensure it fits in the sizer.
When I set my bag in the sizer it fit no problem. However, the agent claimed I was putting it in incorrectly. He demanded that I put it in at an awkward angle for some reason. At that angle my bag fit but the straps on my backpack were hanging out of the sizer. He then informed me that because of this needed to pay $30 to check my bag. I informed him that the straps are detachable and detached it would fit fine. The agent made me get leave the kiosk area and go to the back of the line saying I could check in again when the straps were detached. Detaching my backpack straps is a 15 second process, but he still insisted I leave the line. Once I got back to the kiosk with the straps in the bag it fit no problem.
Another issue at check-in was I was unable to select a seat. At the time, I had only experienced Delta’s basic economy and they let you select a seat at check in, but not before. I was not expecting this but still ended up with a window seat. Traveling alone this is not an issue, but if Stephanie were with me it would really suck if I couldn’t pick two empty seats together.
I got to the gate at about 9:30 with boarding set to start at 9:50. Boarding had not started when 9:50 rolled around. Then at about 10:15 the gate agent made an alert that the plane has some broken part which required a repair and our plane needed to be taken out of service. This meant an indefinite delay. Basically what United did is a rolling delay, every fifteen minutes they delayed our flight another 15 minutes and never once giving us a timeline of what to expect. In all the delay was not that bad about an hour, and we ended up boarding a little before 11:30. As a basic economy passenger I boarded last, which really didn’t matter to me.
The United utilizes the Airbus 319 on this route. United’s A-319 is a single aisle plane with seats arranged in a 3-3 layout. The plane looked to be a bit older, but they maintained it well. There was no obvious signs of age like you typically see in some other of these older planes. In Economy Plus the seat has 34 inches of space from seatback to seatback (pitch) and are 17.7 inches wide. As I was in Basic Economy, I was in a regular economy seat which shrinks it down to 30 inches of pitch. While, this is is actually less pitch than the Delta, United has extremely slim seats installed in economy which reduces the amount of padding but gives you slightly more legroom.
Normally, I am not a fan of slimline seats as they provide less padding for your back and butt, but on a short flight like this the seats were comfortable enough. However, these type of seats in a longer situation would become extremely uncomfortable.
Every row in United’s economy section has a power outlet. United placed their outlets between each set of seats, so if you have a full row one person will be left without a charger. Make sure to plug in quickly…or you can be nice and share…I guess.
I was extremely grumpy by the time we boarded. I got off on the wrong foot with check in and they did not effectively communicate the delay. Take off, while late, went extremely smoothly and I was expecting a drink service by time we got to altitude. Shortly after the seatbelt sign turned off, the flight attendants were out with the drink cart. However, when they fished with the economy plus section of the cabin they were done. They rolled the cart back to the galley and closed the curtain. I don’t know the why happened. Is this united policy? Was it because of the late take off? Regardless, it irritated me.
Other than to serve the economy plus passengers drinks and shortly before landing, the flight attendants stayed behind their curtain in the galley and provided no service to the Economy and Basic Economy passengers. I know not getting a drink and little service is a first world problem, but it did irritate me. This on top of all of the other issues I had with united with my basic economy ticket, just made me feel like United doesn’t give a damn about my experience.
The flight itself went smoothly there was some slight turbulence but nothing out of the ordinary and we landed a little over an hour late.
United Basic Economy is a pretty awful experience. United it makes it perfectly clear from check in onward that if you are worth nothing to them. Essentially you are just human freight rather than a customer and they are going to try everything in their power to nickel and dime you. It wasn’t one thing that really bugged me about this flight, it was just overall miserable. It is possible I just got unlucky with my combination of check-in agents, gate agents, and flight attendance, but I am not sure. I am flying United Basic Economy in January and sincerely hope next time is better.