United Will Offer Big Payouts To Overbooked Passengers

PHOTO: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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United Airlines announced Thursday that it will pay up to $10,000 to entice passengers to give up their seats on overbooked flights, one of several reforms the company is enacting in the aftermath of a public relations disaster.

The beleaguered airline hopes the new policies will help it avoid a repeat of an incident on April 9, when a passenger was dragged from a United plane after refusing to be bumped from the flight. Viral videos of the scuffle sparked international outrage and eventually prompted a series of public apologies from United CEO Oscar Munoz.

The changes are the result of an internal review of United’s booking and customer service policies. In addition to the five-figure payouts, the company says it will give gate agents more power to resolve seating issues and reduce overbooking on smaller planes and final flights of the day. (RELATED: Delta OKs $10,000 Payments To Passengers On Overbooked Flights)

“Our review shows that many things went wrong that day, but the headline is clear: our policies got in the way of our values and procedures interfered in doing what’s right,” Munoz said in a statement. “This is a turning point for all of us at United, and it signals a culture shift toward becoming a better, more customer-focused airline.”

“Our customers should be at the center of everything we do and these changes are just the beginning of how we will earn back their trust,” he added.

In the incident that precipitated the policy review, Chicago Aviation Department security officers dragged Dr. David Dao off United Express Flight 3411 after he refused to leave the plane for a deadheading crew. United officials initially defended the airline’s handling of the situation but subsequently admitted fault when passenger videos emerged showing the extent of the Dao’s injuries.

United’s review of the incident identified four policy failures: calling law enforcement when a security or safety issue didn’t exist; rebooking a crew at the last minute; offering insufficient compensation to bumped passengers; and failing to train employees to handle the situation.

The airline announced April 12 that it will only call police when necessary to protect passengers and crew. Effective Thursday, it will also no longer require customers already on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily absent a safety or security risk.

United also plans to get ahead of potential overbooking problems with a new automated check-in process — at the airport and via the United app — that will identify customers who would be willing to give up their seats before boarding starts. Company officials say the new option will be put in place later this year.

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