Photo: Minh K Tran/Shutterstock

Airlines Have Gone Too Far: New 'UltraBasic' Fare Lacks Carry-Ons, Seat Choice, and Refunds

Airports + Flying
by Morgane Croissant Jun 5, 2024

If you’re already infuriated by the fact that airlines make you pay for a checked luggage and seat selection, and don’t offer anything to eat even on hours-long cross-country flights, you’d better sit down because the latest fare announcement from Canadian airline WestJet will surely send you in an incontrollable rage. WestJet’s new UltraBasic fare is as bare bones as low-cost carrier fares get.

WestJet’s UltraBasic fare allows you to sit down and get to your destination, and that’s about it. The rules of this brand new hellish fare are: no carry-on (unless you’re on a transatlantic or transpacific flight), no points collection, board last, and sit in the back of the plane with the rest of your fellow plebeians — but not necessarily with your travel companions. Also, needless to say, there are no changes, cancellations, or refunds possible for your flight.

“UltraBasic is an innovative cost-effective solution that strengthens WestJet’s ability to offer guests budget-friendly airfares to more destinations,” said John Weatherill, WestJet Group Executive Vice-President and Chief Commercial Officer in a press release.

Under the guise of offering travelers cheaper options to fly, WestJet’s new fare will premiumize air travel a little bit more by creating a new class within its aircrafts: Business, Premium Economy, Economy, and Absolute Misery. Because you can make flying in Absolute Misery a little better by paying to select a seat or to add a checked bag (not a carry-on). If you can afford it, you can also opt to purchase WestJet’s Extended Comfort option and climb up the social and comfort ladder just a little bit.

Also, WestJet’s UltraBasic fare is clearly a ploy to limit the number of carry-on luggage on board. Having made air travelers pay for a checked bag, airlines are now struggling with the consequences of their action: too many carry-ons in the cabin which leads to delayed boarding procedures. Now, they want us to travel with a personal item only. Soon, they’ll make us travel with the clothes on our back and nothing else.

But still, air travelers trying to save a buck should be grateful as traveling in Absolute Misery is not all that bad. In a press release, WestJet explains that UltraBasic fare passengers will still benefit from “the same friendly service, onboard food and beverage offerings, and access to the WestJet Connect inflight entertainment and connectivity system as before.” Phew! For a second, I was worried they would also cut off the supply of tomato juice and the three episodes from The Big Bang Theory season nine that currently prevents the economy passengers from completely losing their minds.

A few days ago, I took a WestJet flight from Barcelona, Spain, to Calgary, Canada. The seat selection cost me $63 and my expensive and brand-new Sterling Pacific carry-on was checked at the last minute (and consequently damaged) because it was supposedly too big for the Dreamliner’s overhead bins (it was not for Air Canada just 10 days before, by the way). Not only that but the nearly 10-hour flight in economy was so uncomfortable that three days later I’m still recovering from it. The only positive aspects of this $721 one-way flight was the fact that I got to sit near my partner and managed to earn a handful of points. With the new fare, you won’t even get that little sliver of happiness.

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