The rules about flying on a basic economy ticket are still unclear to some passengers. Delta was the first airline to issue a “basic” ticket back in 2013, but their current version took effect in February 2015. Delta started slow, only selling the tickets in select markets where they were directly competing with Spirit or Frontier. It wasn’t until November of 2016 that United jumped into the basic economy pool, head first, with their own tickets that had way more restrictions than Delta’s. Not to be left behind, American announced their own basic economy tickets in January of 2017. With all three major carriers offering these restrictive tickets, they began to spread to flights with no competition with the Ultra Low-Cost Carriers. JetBlue and Alaska also added their version of Basic Economy tickets and they are no longer a niche product but are sold on almost every flight.
Since all of the airlines’ basic economy tickets come with different restrictions, I did my homework and looked into each of them before booking one (Here are the most updated rules about each airline’s basic economy tickets). I didn’t want to be like the person next to me on a United flight who was booked on a basic economy ticket by her daughter and was unaware of the restrictions (no seat assignments, no carry-on bag). After much deliberation, I decided that we could live with Delta’s restrictions on their basic economy fare. Here’s what I learned from our experience.
Even before I left, I had reservations about my decision. The check-in process and seat assignment weren’t what I expected. I thought we’d be able to select a seat at check-in (which, for me, meant when I checked in online 24 hours before the flight). As it turned out, we didn’t get the seat assignment for our flight from Orlando to Atlanta until about an hour before our departure time. The seats were listed on the TV by the gate and were updated on the Delta app on my iPhone. It took a while to find where there were listed. As it turned out, the assignments are in the same place as “Standby” passengers.
I guess we could be thankful that they did manage to get us two seats together. However, they were the two seats at the very back of the plane.
What else could we do? Fortunately, we were able to board with Boarding Group 1 because I have the Delta Skymiles Business Gold American Express card. However, we had to wait for everyone else with any status, Comfort Plus tickets, the elderly and people traveling with small children to board first. Most of these passengers were towards the front of the plane, which led to a bottleneck of people putting bags overhead while we were waiting to get to our seats in the back.
I kinda felt like this heading to our seats.
Finally at our seats, we settled in and got ready for the flight. We were still in good spirits and decided to make the most of our experience. I mean, really, how often do you get a selfie on a plane with a wall behind you.
Our next flight, from Atlanta to Chattanooga, was on a Delta 717-200. This was the one flight where we received our seat assignments when we checked in. I knew we’d be sitting in two middle seats that were one behind another, 17D and 18D. At least they weren’t yellow (bad) seats on SeatGuru.
We made it to Chattanooga with our luggage so we did get what we paid for, which was simply transportation from one city to another. However, the experience wasn’t that great overall, and we still had 2 flights to get back home.
With more realistic expectations, we got ready for the return flights. Just as before, when checking in I was told to check at the gate for seat assignments for both flights. Unlike Orlando, Chattanooga airport doesn’t have TV screens with boarding information by the gate. Using the Delta app, I saw our seats loaded about 30 minutes before departure. This flight was on a small regional jet with only two seats on each side (so at least there was no chance of a middle seat here). We were seated together in 6A and 6B. On a side note, this was the first time I’ve ever been on a plane where they had to move passengers due to a weight imbalance. Before departure, the flight attendant said they needed to have someone from row 2 change to row 12. After an awkward silence, one passenger stood up and received a golf clap while he walked to the back of the plane.
Our last flight, from Atlanta to Orlando, was on a 757. We were seated at the gate and almost getting ready to board before we received our seat assignments. I don’t think I’ve ever been so far back on a plane before. The only redeeming factor was we didn’t both have two middle seats. Once again, we headed back to 46D and 48F.
Sharon let me have the window seat this time as she had it on the flight from Orlando. Unfortunately, I ended up with a passenger who didn’t believe in the use of deodorant sitting next to me. Come on, don’t be that person on the plane. I shrunk over as close to the plane’s wall as I could, put on my headphones and tried not to think about anything for the 75 minutes of flight time until we got to Orlando. It was then I found out how long it takes to unload a plane with 49 rows. FOREVER!!! We were in no rush, but it was like 10 minutes or more before we even saw people starting to get bags and walk towards the exit, and they were in row 30.
Basic Economy tickets. Would I do it again? Even with being able to board in Group 1 instead of Group 3 and with Delta allowing a roll-aboard carry-on bag, these aren’t the tickets for us. Basic Economy tickets on this route were $30 cheaper than Main Cabin tickets that let you pick your seat. Going in, I thought I would have some control over the process but it’s now clear to me that Delta doesn’t intend to let you have any control over picking a seat when you buy a Basic Economy ticket. Given, I have a small sample size (four flights) but the fact that we were in the very back of the plane both times leads me to believe this is the norm rather than a case of bad luck.
All of this was before Delta announced passengers will not earn SkyMiles or status credits for Basic Economy tickets. In addition, Delta now offers Basic Economy tickets as an option for mileage redemptions, charging more SkyMiles for Economy seats.
When comparing pricing, I’ll leave basic economy tickets aside for now. I’ll compare prices using the regular economy price. If the major airlines want to compete against Spirit and Frontier on service and price, they should say that you’ll get a middle seat in the back of the plane and no overhead space with these tickets. At least then they’d be honest about it like Ryanair.
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