THE INC. LIFE

United Airlines Just Admitted That Its Sub-Cattle Class Isn’t Working So Well (American Seems To Like It)

The big airlines all thought this was a good idea.

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BY Chris Matyszczyk - 12 Sep 2017
Sometimes, the lowest common denominator doesn't work.

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

 

For airlines, good ideas often revolve around the idea of making money.

Recently, then, both United Airlines and American Airlines thought they'd try something that they thought would be a hit.

This was the notion of offering (allegedly) cheaper fares, while at the same time taking away what used to be basic privileges, like having the chance to choose a seat and being able to put something in the overhead bin.

They called it Basic Economy. I called it Sub-Cattle Class.

United went first.

Well, actually Delta has been doing it since 2015, but in a much less restrictive way than United.

Still, United offered much fanfare. Then again, one of its executives even admitted it was something of a pricing strategy to get you to pay more.

Then came the suggestions that United wasn't making as much money as it had hoped and the reason was Sub-Cattle Class.

And last week FlightGlobal's airline and finance editor Edward Russell reported that United was actually going to pull back a little on its Sub-Cattle offering.

Rather than enticing people by charging less, it seems it may merely have driven customers to try a genuine budget airline where the terms weren't (quite as) ludicrously insulting.

Or, indeed, to go with a more old-fashioned airline that hadn't yet implemented this latest slap to customer dignity.

This doesn't, though, appear to have deterred American Airlines.

The Washington Post is reporting that American is actually extending its Basic Economy offering to more routes.

Here's something that might cheer you even more, should you be an American aficionado.

You might soon be able to buy a (supposedly) cheaper Sub-Cattle Class seat on American on international flights.

But please don't worry. I know that the word Basic sounds so dclass when you're flying to romantic European parts.

So American's senior vice president for revenue management Don Casey has a different name for these tickets: Unbundled.

Yes, it's like Dixie Chicks unplugged, but far, far less enjoyable.

Oh, I know that these airlines are suddenly fearing that they might have to face an experience vaguely akin to competition.

Even though more than 80 percent of US airline seats are owned by just 4 conglomerates.

At some point, though, before unbundling everything it's worth wondering whether this might be the last straw for passengers who already don't entirely love your offering.

Airlines such as Norwegian and Wow might be cheap, but they're also relatively cheerful.

United and its brethren, on the other hand, are trying to offer something people already thought they knew, with a few of the basics simply removed.

It's like going to a restaurant and the server says: "Yes, I know we used to give you free knives and forks, but they're now $5 each."

Why, United has even been taking one or two traditional basics away from First Class passengers.

Sometimes, the customers just say no and go elsewhere. Even if their choice is quite limited.