United and American Are Making People Mad With A New Self-Righteous Fee

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

The unexpected fee is an art form.

Especially when it’s placed in the hands of car rental companies or cellphone carriers.

You look at your final bill and half the line items look like they were made up by a philosophy student on work experience.

State Cellphone Convenience Measurement Authorization Fee: $5.99

Airlines, though, have become increasingly talented at charging you for, well, just being.

The latest fee, though, that appears to be riling some is connected with United and American’s Basic Economy — aka Sub-Cattle Class — offerings.

I mentioned it at the time that United launched its version of Sub-Cattle Class.

This class takes away all the usual privileges of coach, in favor of giving you the worst possible middle seat, no chance to change your booking and no ability to have carry-ons.

And no ability to use the restroom.

Yes, of course I’m kidding. But please give them time.

Anyway, the new fee that has suddenly been annoying those who have had to pay is one that some passengers don’t see coming.

American calls it the Gate-Service Fee. United prefers to name it the Gate-Handling Charge.

In times gone by, when certain levels of civility still reigned on planes, if the overhead bins were full, Flight Attendants would check your carry-on. At no charge, that is.

With Basic Economy, however, if you happen to bring a carry-on, there’s not one charge, but two.

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You have to pay the baggage fee of $25. You also have to pay another $25 for the fact that the Flight Attendant has to check it.

This has, quite naturally, made some people foam beneath the armpits.

They suddenly realize that bringing the carry-on — which they might have thought would fit under the seat — has made the perhaps $30 or $40 they saved by booking Sub-Cattle Class not even worth it.

The Wall Street Journal offers disgruntled passengers who called the Gate-Gouging Fee “not fair.”

It’s touching that they’d expect fairness from airlines.

The airlines, though, insist they are clear about the fares. Indeed, United have emailed me — even though I haven’t booked a flight with it for some time — to explain point by point the limitations of these fares.

For its part, an American spokesman offered these moving words to the Journal: “The whole guiding principle here is that it’s important for Basic Economy passengers to check all bags larger than a personal item.”

I suspect the whole guiding principle is to make as much money as possible at every juncture.

You can imagine, though, the airlines feeling morally righteous to be charging passengers double for “breaking the rules.”

After all, this is a fee topped off with a fine. It’s like a ticket after you’ve outstayed your paid limit in a parking spot.

One Basic Economy flier, Jay Hines told the Journal: “It’s a little bit cruel and unusual punishment. They charge you for checking the bag. They don’t have to impose a penalty.”

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Oh, Jay. Of course they don’t have to. But the whole experience is now cruel and unusual punishment. Coach could happily be renamed after that sort of suffering: CUP Class.

But I’m an optimist.

I think airlines can go further.

They could tack on a charge for you leaving your tray table dirty. Imagine the surprise when you check your credit card bill a month later and discover: Tray Table Cleaning Charge: $10.

They could also impose an Excessive Restroom Visit Convenience Charge.

This could be calculated according to the duration of the flight. If the flight is less than 3 hours, one visit is free. First one after that, $10. Second one, $20.

Above a three-hour flight, you get two free visits.

The possibilities are as endless as airlines’ venality is bottomless.

In other news, United’s Basic Economy offering doesn’t seem to be doing as well as the airline had hoped.

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