United Releases Plan to Address Overbooked Flights

United Airlines Editorial
Photo by United Airlines

United Airlines has laid out a 10-point plan to address the PR backlash over the early April incident in which a customer was dragged from an overbooked plane so United employees could fly.

In a written statement the airline said it has committed to the following:

  • Limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only.
  • Not require customers seated on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk.
  • Increase customer compensation incentives for voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000.
  • Establish a customer solutions team to provide agents with creative solutions such as using nearby airports, other airlines or ground transportations to get customers to their final destination.
  • Ensure crews are booked onto a flight at least 60 minutes prior to departure.
  • Provide employees with additional annual training.
  • Create an automated system for soliciting volunteers to change travel plans.
  • Reduce the amount of overbooking.
  • Empower employees to resolve customer service issues in the moment.
  • Eliminate the red tape on permanently lost bags by adopting a "no questions asked" policy on lost luggage.

The policy changes are the result of an internal review by the airline after a viral Facebook video of the passenger being dragged from the plane prompted widespread outrage. The incident prompted the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) to call for expanded passenger protections.

“Indeed, with the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill coming up for renewal, now is the time to act,” ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby said at the time. “Issues we believe should be on the table include increased protections for overbooked and bumped passengers, a review of the impacts of airline consolidation, transparency in airline pricing including ancillary fees and airline immunity from state consumer protection laws. We look forward to working with all policymakers toward crafting an airline regulatory system wherein the passenger comes first.”

Last week, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced a new Airline Passenger Bill of Rights that would, in part, restore airline passengers’ right to sue airlines for unfair or deceptive practices or unfair methods of competition.

This week, United CEO Oscar Munoz fielded questions from lawmakers regarding the airline’s handling of overbooked flights. In a letter to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee obtained by NASDAQ, Munoz said that less than one passenger was involuntarily denied boarding per 23,000 on average last year, for a total of 3,765 involuntarily denied boarding out of more than 86.9 million passengers.

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