Tried & Tested

Flight review: United Airlines Airbus A319 'Basic Economy' San Francisco to Las Vegas

29 Sep 2019 by Michael Allen
United Airlines 'Basic Economy' Airbus A319 San Francisco to Las Vegas / photo by Michael Allen

Background

United launched its “Basic Economy” fare in early 2017 in order to better compete with low-cost carriers. The stripped down fare comes with several restrictions, including:

  • No complimentary seat selection or upgrades
  • No group or family seating (i.e. if you’re travelling with others, you can’t sit together)
  • No full-sized carry on luggage
  • No flight changes or refunds allowed
  • Certain MileagePlus and Premier member benefits not available
  • Boarding in the last group

I was flying from San Francisco to Las Vegas for a conference, having the previous day flown with Singapore Airlines from Hong Kong to San Francisco.

Check-in

My flight was from Terminal 3 of San Francisco International Airport. Check-in is done on a computer terminal…

United Airlines 'Basic Economy' Airbus A319 San Francisco to Las Vegas / photo by Michael Allen

…and afterwards you go over to a staffed bag drop counter to deposit your bags…

United Airlines 'Basic Economy' Airbus A319 San Francisco to Las Vegas / photo by Michael Allen

It turned out that mine was six pounds overweight and therefore I would have to pay $100 in fees; however, a friendly and helpful member of United staff advised that I would be better off just buying another bag (and fortunately I had an additional suitcase folded into my luggage) for only $40, saving me $60.

Following check-in, I waited an average length of time at security and cleared it without issue. On the other side of security, there was a well-stocked bookshop and I killed some time browsing in here before my flight.

Boarding

This flight boarded at Gate 75, which is opposite the American Express Centurion lounge, to which I unfortunately did not have access.

United Airlines 'Basic Economy' Airbus A319 San Francisco to Las Vegas / photo by Michael Allen

The boarding area had sufficient seating for all the passengers and it was a fairly relaxing place to sit and wait.

United Airlines 'Basic Economy' Airbus A319 San Francisco to Las Vegas / photo by Michael Allen

As mentioned above, the Basic Economy ticket also meant that I was in the last boarding group, so I was among the passengers who boarded the aircraft last. This meant that when I got to my row, there was already someone sitting in the aisle seat and they had to get up so that I could get in to my seat.

United Airlines 'Basic Economy' Airbus A319 San Francisco to Las Vegas / photo by Michael Allen

The seat

There are 78 economy class seats in this Airbus A319, along with 42 economy plus seats and eight United first seats.

I was in 24B, a middle seat. The seat is quite basic and does not have many features to showcase, though the legroom is decent for economy. There is no inflight entertainment system, though you can stream entertainment on your own device using the wifi. Given that this was a short flight of only about one hour and 15 minutes, I didn’t try this.

Storage space is adequate. There is a mesh storage space at the bottom of the seat.

United Airlines 'Basic Economy' Airbus A319 San Francisco to Las Vegas / photo by Michael Allen

In the seatback pocket, where you can also fit a small book if you have one with you, you can find the safety card, sick bag, as well as United’s inflight magazine Hemispheres.

United Airlines 'Basic Economy' Airbus A319 San Francisco to Las Vegas / photo by Michael Allen

Which seat to choose?

Well, with this fare class you don’t get a choice, so perhaps this question is redundant. However, if I had had a choice, I would not have chosen a middle seat. I can’t see any advantage to sitting in a middle seat.

Window seats are of course nicer if you want a view, though may be claustrophobic for some. If you think you’re going to need to use the bathroom on this flight, I’d recommend an aisle seat.

The flight

We had a delayed takeoff due to there being a lot of traffic on the San Francisco-Las Vegas route, according to the pilot. So we had to wait on the tarmac for about 20 minutes. Interestingly, unlike on most flights I’ve been on in Asia, the window blinds do not need to be raised for takeoff, and many passengers kept theirs down, probably because it was quite sunny outside. However, I found it too disorientating to take off without being able to see out the window, so I raised mine.

No complimentary food is served on this flight, though passengers are offered a fairly wide choice of hot and cold soft drinks. I opted for an Illy dark roasted coffee, which tasted good. It was served in a United branded cup with a United branded napkin.

 

United Airlines 'Basic Economy' Airbus A319 San Francisco to Las Vegas / photo by Michael Allen

If you don’t mind paying for it, there is a pretty wide selection of food and alcoholic drinks available on this flight. The menu is six pages and runs the gamut from M&Ms, jerky and Haribo sweets, all the way to cheeseburgers and sandwiches. Prices are quite reasonable, with no food item costing more than $10. The highest priced item is premium wine, which costs $18 a glass.

United Airlines 'Basic Economy' Airbus A319 San Francisco to Las Vegas / photo by Michael Allen

Since this is a short flight, I don’t see why you would need to eat, though if you were in a rush to catch your flight and didn’t have time to have lunch, it’s reassuring that you can get something to eat if you want to.

My used coffee cup and napkin were cleared away promptly and the rest of the flight was smooth and unremarkable. I read a newspaper I had purchased from the bookshop in the airport and rested my eyes.

Arrival

There was some turbulence during the descent into Vegas, which the captain had given us advance warning to expect. We touched down smoothly with a slight delay, which the captain had also warned us about and apologised for in advance.

Never before have I arrived at an airport and been greeted by an array of slot machines.

United Airlines 'Basic Economy' Airbus A319 San Francisco to Las Vegas / photo by Michael Allen

Verdict

This is a perfectly adequate product if you are on a budget and simply need to get from A to B. Although you cannot enjoy some of the privileges available to passengers on normal economy class tickets, the staff still treat you with the same courtesy and friendliness. All the staff and crew I interacted with were surprisingly friendly and helpful.

That being said, if you do have budget for a normal economy class fare, it may be worth going for this. With the Basic Economy fare, you are almost guaranteed to be stuck in a middle seat unless the flight is very quiet. Also, not being able to bring a full-sized carry on means you have to check in all your bags and then waste time upon arrival waiting to collect your bag, which may be inconvenient if you have a meeting to get to.

Ultimately, it’s a balance between price and convenience. Just make sure you fully understand the restrictions of this Basic Economy ticket before you book. United has a good overview of the fare on its website here.

Fact file

  • Flight No. UAL492
  • Configuration 3-3
  • Seat width 17.7 inches
  • Seat pitch 30 inches
  • Seat recline 3 inches
  • Departure 1328
  • Flight duration One hour and 15 minutes
  • Contact united.com
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