United’s new plans for overbooked flights

United Airlines has announced its launching a pilot program that will incentivise passengers to give up their seats on overbooked flights.

But the new approach will see the airline offering these rewards a few days before the flight, and not at the airport.

According to Travel Market Report, United is launching the ‘Flex-Schedule Program’, which will offer $250 travel vouchers to any volunteers prepared to reschedule, via email notifications several days prior to the flight.

Volunteers will then be rebooked on a flight of their choosing, using the same airports and seat preferences, within 24 hours of the original flight, per TMR.

It’s the latest move by United to overhaul its overbooking policies in the wake of the Flight 3411 incident, where passenger Dr David Dao was violently assaulted and dragged off the plane when he refused to give up his seat on an overbooked flight.

United initially went into defence mode, blaming Dao, before admitting responsibility and revamping its overbooking processes, offering as much as $10,000 to give up seats on overbooked flights.

Per TMR, the “Flex-Schedule Program” is designed to entice more passengers to volunteer to be bumped without the hassle of getting to the airport, going through customs, giving up a seat, and going home with disrupted travel plans.

It’ll also save the airline having to pay up to $10,000 for someone to give up their seats, which is enough to make overbooking seem like a flawed business model.

United Vice President for Pricing and Revenue Management, Dave Barters, told Bloomberg the idea is basically just to free up a seat for someone who needs it more, and would pay more for it obviously.

It also hopes to keep stress down for passengers and all crew and gate staff, he added.

The program “won’t mean we’re overbooking the aircraft more”, he said, but wouldn’t lead to less overbooking either.

According to Bloomberg, other airlines, including Alaska Air in September and Qantas in October, will start offering similar programs using the same technology from Volantio, the aviation start-up that is working with United.

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