US Airline’s ‘Ultra Basic’ Seats Are A Cruel New Low For Air Travel

No carry-ons, no points, no nothing...

US Airline’s ‘Ultra Basic’ Seats Are A Cruel New Low For Air Travel

A US airline has introduced UltraBasic fares with draconian restrictions, marking a new low in budget air travel comfort and convenience.

With the ongoing news that airlines are scrapping fancy first class seats in favour of the “money-making machine” that is an expanded premium economy cabin class, it should come as no surprise that airlines are continuing to push the customer experience downwards without a corresponding drop in ticket prices.

However, we may have just hit a new low: the introduction of ‘UltraBasic’ fares by US airline WestJet has sparked nothing short of outrage debate among travellers and industry experts alike. This new tier, a step down from the already pretty grim and restrictive ‘Basic Economy’, introduces even more limitations, raising concern about the continued downgrading of budget air travel.

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The Grim Reality Of ‘UltraBasic’

As of June 4th, UltraBasic fares have taken over from Basic Economy on several major domestic and transborder routes. These fares come with an array of restrictive measures designed to strip down the travel experience to a new level of bare minimum. Passengers booking UltraBasic fares can no longer bring a full-sized carry-on, instead limited to one small personal item that must fit under their seat.

Even worse, they are assigned the least desirable seats at the back of the plane, often in the middle of the row, and are among the last to board the plane. There are no options for ticket changes or cancellations, and passengers do not earn rewards in the airline’s loyalty program. All in all, I think most flyers will agree that this all feels more like a slap in the face than a new level of flexibility.

a screenshot showing what is offered on the new fare
Image: One Mile At A Time

Despite these draconian measures, airlines claim that UltraBasic fares offer a more affordable option for budget-conscious travellers. They argue that this fare type allows passengers to tailor their travel experience without paying for unnecessary extras, maintaining that the core onboard experience remains unchanged. However, this does little to offset the inconvenience and discomfort associated with the UltraBasic restrictions.

A New Low

The debut of UltraBasic fares raises a lot more questions than it answers. While many airlines label their no-frills offerings as “Basic Economy” to indicate the already bare-bones nature of the service, the term “UltraBasic” feels like a deliberate attempt to foreground the total austerity of these seats.

It’s almost as if the branding is designed to discourage bookings and nudge passengers toward more expensive options. This tactic, if true, is shamelessly cynical, clearly showing that airlines are content to push the limits of what passengers will endure in exchange for lower prices, rather than make their product better over time.

Screenshot of a social media post from a flyer who is not impressed by the new fare
Image: X/Twitter

The move to pre-assign the worst seats well in advance, rather than at check-in, signals a pointedly new level of disregard for passenger comfort. Ultimately, the UltraBasic fare is not just about cost-cutting but also about conditioning travelers to expect less and pay more for basic amenities.

Final Thoughts

UltraBasic fares represent an ongoing and troubling trend in the airline industry, where the pursuit of affordability comes at the expense of passenger comfort.

The restrictive nature of these fares, coupled with the harsh branding, suggests a new low for air travel, especially in a wider context of the seemingly never-ending cost of living crises for consumers who are stretched further than ever before financially and now expected to endure demeaning new levels of customer experience in return…