Why do flight attendants love United Airlines’ new basic economy seats?

American Airlines flight attendant Renee Schexnaildre demonstrates the overhead baggage area during a media preview of a Boeing 737-800 jet. Flight attendants say bulky carry-on bags cause them injuries.
(Donna McWilliam/AP)

Shortly after United Airlines announced the launch this week of its new “basic economy” fares, travelers began to gripe on social media sites.

Most fliers complained that such fares wouldn’t allow passengers to choose their seats and would mean each passenger gets only one carry-on item that can fit under the seat — don’t try to put it in an overhead compartment.

“Why do you have to make a $ off everything,” one flier tweeted at United. “Great low fares but no bags or seat assign. Flying used to be fun now it’s a hassle.”


United’s move represents an effort by the Chicago-based carrier to compete with ultra-low-cost carriers, such as Spirit Airlines, which have been siphoning business away from the major airlines. Delta Air Lines has already adopted a bare-bones fare and American Airlines plans to launch a similar fare next year.

The nation’s largest flight attendants union applauds the new fares because they limit carry-on bags, which means fewer injuries for flight attendants who have to struggle to fit all the bags into the crowded overhead bins.

“Excess bags in the cabin lead to flight attendant injuries, slower boarding times and passenger altercations,” Sara Nelson, international president of the Assn. of Flight Attendants, said in a statement.

Data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the rate of airline employee injuries caused by luggage has fallen from 149 for every 10,000 workers in 2010 to 85 for every 10,000 workers in 2015.

Carry-on bags also slow passengers from evacuating a plane in an emergency, said Taylor Garland, a spokeswoman for AFA.

“The planes were not built for everyone to carry on a bag,” she said.

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