United and American Airlines to board basic economy passengers last

Passengers line up to board an American Airlines flight at Los Angeles International Airport. The airline will board "basic economy" passengers last, starting March 1.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

To better complete with ultra low-cost carriers, United and American Airlines this week began selling their new “basic economy” seats, a bare-bones fare with almost no extras included.

Not only will the airlines allow no cancellations, upgrades or refunds for basic economy passengers, but the carriers confirmed this week that those fliers will be boarded last, after every other traveler on the plane.

American Airlines will board basic economy travelers after eight other categories of passengers are seated, starting March 1. United will board its basic economy fliers after four other seating categories, taking effect April 18.

On both airlines, the first group allowed on the plane — described as pre-boarding — will be families with children, travelers with disabilities, active members of the military and elite loyalty reward members, such as Concierge Key members on American Airlines.

The advantage of boarding early is that you usually find lots of room in the overhead bins for your luggage. By the time the last fliers board, the overhead bins are usually packed.


But that may not matter for basic economy fliers. On both United and American, basic economy passengers are allowed to bring only a small bag that fits under the seat and are charged an extra fee if they bring a bigger bag to go into the overhead bin.

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