Senator Chuck Schumer blasted United Airlines' new policy on Sunday that limits certain passengers from using overhead bins unless they pay for a pricier ticket.
The policy, which the airline is calling Basic Economy, was introduced in November. "It will be the lowest price available on the market at that time," United spokesperson Jonathan Guerin told CNN. Beginning January 1st, 2017, customers who purchase Basic Economy tickets must either pay to check their luggage or pay to use overhead storage—otherwise, they can only fly with a carry-on that fits under their seat.
The airline has not yet said how much it will charge customers who use overhead bins, but it costs $25 to check one bag and $35 to check an additional bag with United.
The policy will also automatically assign seats to passengers at check-in and doesn't guarantee that travelers flying together will be able to sit next to each other.
"Customers have told us that they want more choice and Basic Economy delivers just that," United's executive vice president Julia Haywood told CNN.
Schumer, who has a history of sparring with airlines over new fees such as this, disagrees. "It seems like each year, airlines devise a new, ill-conceived plan to hit consumers and it has simply got to stop," he said on Sunday. A press release from Schumer's office says the airline expects the plan will raise $1 billion for the company by 2020.
Other airlines, including Delta, also offer Basic Economy fares, but United is the only one so far that has restricted use of the overhead bin or restricted passengers' carry-on luggage.
According to Forbes, United is the number three carrier in passenger miles flown, behind American and Delta airlines. The three leading carriers are lagging behind Southwest—which lets passengers travel with two free checked bags in addition to their carry-on—when it comes to revenue per available seat mile.
"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 said on Sunday.
"Already, airlines charge extra for checked luggage, pillows, peanuts, and head phones and now you'll have nowhere to store them. United Airlines should reverse this plan and allow the free use of the overhead bin for all."
Schumer did not announce any specific legislative action intended to stop United from introducing the fee, but maybe this public shaming will be enough to persuade the company to abandon its plan to significantly increase profits? You never know.
"Our basic economy fare provides additional choice for our customers that they asked for.
For customers who want to bring a carry on, we have regular economy fares to meet their needs," a United spokesperson told Gothamist. The airline did not comment on whether Schumer's $1 billion valuation of overhead bin access was accurate.