Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

You can trust airlines about as much as you can trust the man you meet in a bar who tells you he's Tom Cruise's best friend.

Airlines do have to hoodwink. They want you to believe that things are better when your own eyes and ears are screaming at you that things are worse.

Still, it sounded as if the major carriers were at least trying to offer lower fares with their new Basic Economy, a.k.a. Sub-Cattle Class, fares.

Yes, there were restrictions. But the fares will be cheaper and at least you and your family can save a little money, right?

Perhaps not.

As United rolls out its Basic Economy offering today (American and Delta are in the game, too), some skin-shivering facts emerge.

Travel consultant Ben Schlappig noticed an oddity. He stared at the United fares between Minneapolis and Denver. (United is launching Basic Economy with flights from Minneapolis.)

A week ago, the lowest Economy fare was $173. Now, the new Basic Economy price is, oh look, $173.

Essentially, then, United appears to have taken away some privileges but kept the same price. The new Economy price? $193.

Which makes these words from United's president Scott Kirby sound a touch hollow: "The launch of our Basic Economy product is transformational--offering customers seeking the most budget-conscious fares United's comfortable and reliable travel experience across our unmatched network of destinations."

Could it be that United has transformed $173 into, well, $173 (minus the ability to have a carry-on, etc., etc)?

Should you have missed this new basic fare, it essentially strips away things you took for granted in return for the promise of lower fares. United strips away more than most.

In United's Basic Economy, you're not even allowed to use the overhead bin. You can only have a carry-on that will fit under the seat.

You can't change your ticket. You don't get elite qualifying miles either. Oh, and you board in the last group.

It's the cheapest fare, though, right? Well, yes. But one of the other characteristics is that you'd better be flying alone.

You see, here's one of United's stipulations: "Please note that customers traveling in a group, including families, will not be able to sit together."

Yes, if you're flying with your kids on a little vacation, you'll have to wave to them. If you can see them at all, that is.

And this they used to call the friendly skies.

I asked United whether it wasn't offering any truly lower fares at all, but merely rebranding its current lowest fare. I will update, should the airline offer me even a basic, economical reply.

The whole thing does sound like a way to make travelers think Basic Economy is so awful that they'll willingly pay more to keep out of it.

There's nothing like the power of the upsell, is there?

Published on: Feb 22, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.