Review: The United Basic Economy Experience in the Real World! Is It Really THAT Bad?

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United Basic Economy Experience

United Basic Economy Experience

Following an exhausting and eventful trip to Twin Falls, Idaho to see my grandfather, I made my way home from Boise via United. The airport in Boise (BOI) is clearly on the smaller side, but not without the shops and conveniences of most large airports. It was a perfectly fine place to begin my United Basic Economy experience. 

United Basic Economy Basics

To start, let’s look at United’s Basic Economy class and what you get compared to other tickets. 

  • No pre-assigned seats or complimentary seat selections
  • No group or family boarding
  • Full sized carry-on bags are not permitted on most routes
  • One small personal item is allowed under the seat in front of you
  • Last boarding group
  • No changes or refund allowed
  • Less mileage earning and elite benefits

United Basic Economy Experience

United Airlines CRJ-200

On this trip I flew from BOI-SFO-LAS with my first leg being on a small United Airlines CRJ-200.

Check In & Security Boise

Since the flight was booked under United Basic Economy and because I was only bringing a personal item, they did not give me a boarding pass online and instead required my bag be inspected at the airport to make sure it was the correct size. Thankfully the lines were not bad at the airport and check-in was smooth. I was also through security and to the gate quickly thanks to TSA Pre-check gained through Global Entry. 

At The Gate – Boise

Since I got to the airport a bit early I had time to mope around and eat something. The food choices were somewhat limited at the gate. My choices were between Einstein’s, vBagels and Smashburger, I had a tough decision 🤔. While enjoying my Smash Burger the flight began boarding. As a United Basic Economy passenger I was forced to wait until the last group, Group 5 was called before I made my way onto the plane. 

Boarding & Flight

For the flight from Boise to San Francisco United uses a small regional jet with 4 across seating featuring 2 seats on either side of a narrow aisle. 

My Experience with United Economy Class

The flight was short in duration (1hr 55 mins.) and felt even shorter since I was able to get some well needed rest. As far as the overhead bins were concerned there was not much room for large carry on baggage. As a United Basic Economy passenger my personal item was supposed to go under the seat in front of me and it fit perfectly. 

Seating was skinny, standard and somewhat close together. Although I had a window seat  the adjacent aisle was still close (to give an idea of the size of the corridor). They came through the aisles to serve us drinks at least once and offered a small bag of pretzels, which I didn’t take.

Before long we were coming into San Francisco and my head was totally fixed on watching the beautiful bay as the runway came into sight. After touching down we took a stairway to the tarmac and walked into the San Francisco airport and I got ready to take my connecting United Basic Economy flight to Las Vegas.

My Experience with United Economy Class

San Francisco International Airport & Boarding

At the San Francisco Airport (SFO) I didn’t have time to do much of anything besides charge my phone at the gate. Being impatient I didn’t wait my turn and sneakily boarded the plane with group 4 instead of group 5. Everything was fine and before I knew it I was comfy in my seat and the plane was ready for take off.

This flight was much bigger, with 3 seats to a row. I was given a middle seat, but was hoping for an open aisle to slide over. That seemed like it was happening when the flight attendants closed the bins with no aisle passenger, but then the universe brought me back down when the passenger in that seat came running on board at the last second. 

My Experience with United Economy Class

United Airlines 737-900 – The Flight

Even being in a middle seat I will say the seats were slightly more comfortable than my previous flight. Also despite being a United Basic Economy passenger I was allowed to place my carry-on bag in the much larger overheard bins. That freed up my foot room which made a huge difference in the middle seat. 


The interior of the cabin was a little more updated and modern than my last flight as well. I slept through most of this flight, waking up to drink apple juice and then going right back to sleep. The service was great and the flight attendants came for trash a good amount of times. My cabin-mates were friendly and overall everyone on the flight seemed cheerful. While sitting in the middle seat is crowded, I was comfortable enough to doze off for the 1hr and 35 mins.

Finally, as I usually do when I fly into Vegas I watched the hardened desert mountains that surround my city turn into houses and planted trees then to casinos as we pulled into and landed at LAS. 

United Basic Economy Experience – Bottom Line

As a whole my United Basic Economy experience was convenient and efficient. My connection was not long by any means and the flights were drama free. I usually have trouble sleeping so being able to knock out on both flights speaks well to me.

With just a little patience flying United Basic Economy Class is a good replacement for tedious traveling. The flight was a great price, the restrictions weren’t too bad and in the end I got to where I wanted to go for not a lot of money. In that way United Basic Economy worked great.

Have you flown United Basic Economy? Share your experiences and thoughts below. 

Shawn Reece Coomer
Shawn Reece Coomer began traveling the globe at 6 years old with his parents and hasn't stopped. He has visited over 50 countries and shares his travels as he transitions into adulthood.

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  1. This is my second basic Economy with United and I am writing this sitting in FLL airport flying to SFO. Both times I was treated like a 3rd class citizen, and very visible discrimination. They wantedly make you wait at the checkin kiosky. The agent was there chatting with another agent and knowing that I am waiting for someone to come and get me boarding pass, they just ignored my presence. When showed my concern that my flight is getting delayed, she said dont mess up with my morning. United agents very much became like monsters, helpless, I am scared to approach them with any questions. Avoid united.

  2. the universe punished you for boarding with group 4 instead of group 5 like you were supposed to. like seriously, just follow the rules.

  3. Try departing from from Newark on a packed 777: no carry-ons, waiting (and waiting, and waiting) at gate for seat assignments, delayed flight, etc. Their whole process is a recipe for disaster. Let passengers check-in online, get a seat, bring a carry-on, etc., like AA and DL do and the experience will be a lot less stressful for customers AND airport staff (Mr. Munoz, remember, your employees, on the front-line, making that first “day of flight” impression on your customers?…yeah them!)…not to mention, that when calculating the cost of travel, the price for a checked bag must be added to every UA basic economy fare to compare with other carriers’ offering.

    • “no carry-ons”

      Applies to domestic flights only. If you fly enough for it to make a big dent, get the card. I think you can still sell the club passes to make up most of the annual fee.

      “the price for a checked bag must be added to every UA basic economy fare”

      And every other Basic Economy fare, and most domestic Economy fares.

      If you’re routinely flying Basic Economy or Economy out of Newark to airports that are not AA/DL hubs, booking United with their card is probably your best bet money-wise, even when accounting for the annual fee and the loss of 1-3X vs. booking with other cards. It would also solve most of these problems (except seat selection in BE, and delays… but they’re probably no worse than AA currently).

  4. United Basic Economy is the worst. Your check-in in BOI is misleading you. I waited in line for 45 minutes in DEN just for them to size my bag. The irony? The single depressed-looking man checking bags for all of United had conceded himself to the repeated anger of customers and was letting bags of all sizes through.

    I find United’s seats to be second-worst only to AA’s extra cramped new seating. I’ll take Frontier’s plastic seats any day. At least they haven’t been molded to the rotund behinds of “people of size”, causing me to slide into their fold, making it hard to sit upright. And at 6’3″ my knees are inevitably pinned against the uncomfortable and poorly-placed metal bar of the seatback folder.

    To top it off, unlike Delta you don’t get a carry-on and unlike the other major carriers you don’t get a free checked bag with their branded credit card unless you book with their under-performing card. I get the intent, but it’s still lags the competition.

    Oh, and they won’t give you status upgrades on awards. They’ll give you 7 hours of 15 minute rolling delays on missing crew until weather rolls in and then call it weather.


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