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United Airlines says it won't change its policy about carry-on bags for basic economy fliers

United Airlines says it won't change its policy about carry-on bags for basic economy fliers
Passengers load their carry-on bags into overhead bins on a United Airlines flight at Denver International Airport. United Airlines said passengers flying with basic economy fares will continue to be charged for carry-on bags that don't fit under the seat. (Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images)

If you pay a bare-bones basic economy fare on United Airlines, don’t expect the carrier to cut you a break on your carry-on luggage.

The Chicago-based carrier has announced that it won’t follow the lead of its rival, American Airlines, which began in September to allow basic economy fliers to pack a carry-on bag into the overhead compartment free of charge.

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“There are no plans to change any policies,” said Andrew Nocella, United’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, when asked about the bag policy during a conference call with analysts this week. If a basic economy passenger brings a carry-on bag that has to go in the overhead compartment, that passenger will be charged a $25 “gate handling charge” in addition to the checked bag fee.

United, Delta and American — the nation’s three major carriers — all sell a fare called basic economy that is designed to compete with the no-frills tickets sold by ultra low-cost rivals such as Spirit and Frontier Airlines.

Delta has for years allowed basic economy passengers to bring into the cabin a small personal item, such as a laptop bag or backpack that fit under the seat, along with a carry-on bag that goes into the overhead compartment, free of charge.

At American Airlines, basic economy passengers who brought a carry-on bag were initially charged a $25 gate fee to have the luggage checked, plus the regular checked baggage fee. But in September, American began allowing carry-on bags for basic economy fliers, free of charge.

Many airline industry analysts expected United would follow American’s lead.

But when asked during its third-quarter earnings call about United’s policy, Nocella said no change is planned.

“On basic [economy], we are happy with where we're at,” he said. “The way we designed basic was carefully constructed to be, I think, a win for allowing us to segment our products, to allow us to compete effectively against the ultra low-cost competitors and allow our operation to deliver better results for everybody in terms of on-time departures. And it's working as designed, and so we're full speed ahead with where we're at.”

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