American Airlines will start offering cheap, no-frills fares in February in an effort to compete with low-cost carriers like Spirit Airlines.
Customers who purchase the fares, called basic economy, will face several restrictions. They will only be allowed to bring carry-on or personal items that fit underneath the seat and will not be allowed to upgrade to regular economy, business class or first class. Their tickets will be nonrefundable and cannot be changed, and seating assignments will be made only when they check in.
“We know that some of our customers don’t fly very often and they care more about price than about features,” American President Robert Isom said in a letter sent to employees Wednesday. “Ultra low-cost airlines are growing rapidly — right in our hubs. … Competing aggressively against these airlines is not optional.”
Since Spirit launched flights at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in 2011, the carrier has grown from three destinations to 25. American has talked about introducing a basic economy fare to compete with Spirit since late 2015.
The fares will go on sale in February in 10 domestic markets as the company limits the initial rollout. American did not disclose which routes the fares will be offered on. Isom said training is underway at the launch airports and emphasized that flight attendants will not be monitoring basic economy customers’ use of the overhead bins.
In its announcement about the new fares, American said customers who purchase basic economy will be in the last boarding group. On crowded flights, overhead-bin space is often full by the time that group boards.
Customers will have the same in-flight experience as customers in the main cabin economy seats, American said, adding that it will not be renovating its aircraft to change seats for basic economy.
United Airlines unveiled a similar basic economy fare late last year that also prevents customers from bringing large carry-on bags onto flights. Delta Air Lines already has a basic economy fare in select markets.
The no-frills fare is in contrast to American’s new premium economy fare it has rolled out on some international routes. Premium economy offers more legroom and better in-flight meals and entertainment than main-cabin seats.
“Some of our customers will only fly first class and some simply want a seat from Point A to Point B,” Isom said. “We need products for both types of customers, and everyone in between.”