United has no plans to follow American by upgrading its basic economy offering to include carry-on bags.
"It's working as designed, and we're full speed ahead with where we are at," Andrew Nocella, the carrier's chief commercial officer, explained during United's earnings call Wednesday morning.
His comments differ sharply from the sentiment expressed by American CEO Doug Parker ahead of that carrier's move away from its basic economy carry-on prohibition on Sept. 5. Parker said American was losing out to Delta's less restrictive basic economy offering, which has always allowed customers to stow carry-ons in overhead bins.
With American's move, United became the only Big Three airline to forbid all carry-ons on basic economy fares except those that can fit under a seat, fueling speculation that it too would soon do away with that restriction.
Nocella, however, said twice during Wednesday's earnings call that United carefully constructed its basic economy offering so that it is clearly differentiated from the carrier's economy product and so that United can compete with the airfares offered by the ultralow-cost carriers Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant.
Along with the carry-on restriction, basic economy customers on United are seated at the back of the plane and board in the last group. Their tickets are nonrefundable and unchangeable, and they are not eligible for seat assignments prior to check-in.
Nocella's remarks came as United reported net income for the third quarter of $836 million, up 29.6% from last year. The jump was driven largely by the lower income taxes United is paying as a result of last year's tax bill. The carrier's pretax income was up a much smaller 6.8% in the third quarter.
But the improvement was also boosted by a double-digit year-over-year increase in corporate revenue, with domestic and transatlantic corporate business being especially strong, Nocella said.
United president Scott Kirby also cited the success of United's effort to boost connectivity at its Houston and Chicago hubs, where passenger revenue per available seat mile, a key industry metric, was up 6.8% year over year in the third quarter on capacity growth of 9.7%.
Overall, United's third quarter revenue was $11 billion, up 11.2% from last year and beating analyst expectations by $40 million, according to the website Seeking Alpha. Expenses climbed 11.9%, driven largely by a 42.2% year-over-year jump in fuel prices.
United had third quarter earnings per share of $3.06, missing analyst expectations by $.02, according to Seeking Alpha.
The carrier's stock was up 6% in early afternoon trading.