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No more free overhead bin on United: Is an extra fee for oxygen next?


Gone are the days of the free sandwiches, the complimentary pillows, the headphones that didn’t cost $5. The in-flight comforts that were once a given are now nothing more than a nostalgic reminder of decades past.

Out went the free checked bag, in came the fees for those few extra inches of leg room. Want to make sure you sit next to your children on a flight? On some airlines, there’s a fee for that.

Now, on United Airlines, you won’t necessarily get the use of an overhead bin without paying more money.

The overhead bin: “one of the last sacred conveniences of air travel,” as an angry Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) put it Sunday as he denounced the move.

Of course, the airlines, when they come up with a new fee for something that was once free, always say that’s not what they’re doing. They’re just creating a fare tier that does not include it.

As part of the company’s new pricing tier, Basic Economy, passengers who purchase the airline’s cheapest fares will only be allowed one personal item that must fit under a seat. Additionally, customers will not be assigned seats until the day of departure, meaning people on the same ticket could be separated.

The move marks the first time a large U.S. airline limits low-fare customers to one carry-on bag that fits under a seat, Reuters reported. The company expects such fare initiatives to add $1 billion to its annual operating income by 2020, as more customers pay to check luggage or select higher fares for two carry-on bags.

Of course, next to cable providers, airlines are the companies Americans love the most to hate. Many on Twitter saw United’s new tier as a mere invention.

And the constant nickel-and-diming has led passengers to ask: What will airlines begin to charge for next? Cushions? Oxygen masks?

“Maybe it will be extra for sitting soon,” tweeted one disgruntled flyer.

“Seriously!?! When will it end?” said Sandra Cochrane. “Which airline will join next?”

From WHO radio: “How long before we have to pay for oxygen? Discuss.”

“We need to boycott United Airlines,” tweeted a woman identifying herself as Sandra Lespinasse.

Schumer called the proposed fare structure “one of the most restrictive policies on airline passengers we have seen in a long time.”

“The overhead bin is one of the last sacred conveniences of air travel and the fact that United Airlines — and potentially others — plan to take that convenience away unless you pay up is really troubling,” Schumer wrote. “It seems like each year, airlines devise a new, ill-conceived plan to hit consumers and it has simply got to stop.”

The clamor sent United Airlines marketers into a frenzy, responding to frustrated customers on Twitter to clarify the policy. The phrase “We are not charging a fee for overhead bin space” was repeated dozens of times on the airline’s account in response to complaints.

United explained that this is all for the benefit of passengers. United’s President Scott Kirby told Reuters that surveys indicated travelers and employees do not like scrambling to store carry-on bags in the limited overhead bins.

The purpose of the new fare structure is to create more options for customers, according to the company’s website. The new fares, which will be comparable to the low fares the airline now charges for economy cabin, will begin selling in the first quarter of 2017 for travel starting in the second quarter, according to Reuters.

It was not immediately clear whether United’s announcement would prompt rivals to make similar moves. Airlines have previously copied each other on pricing strategies, such as adding fees for checked luggage.

For some, the announcement called for a new approach to flying: Wear plenty of layers.

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