Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Auctioning Off the Friendly Skies

This is the smartest commentary I have seen yet on the mishap of United Flight 3411. Regulated companies have to produce policies and then abide by them. Failure to abide by their own policies is what gets these companies into an extra layer of trouble. This could get mighty expensive for United. Frankly, it should. This is a completely unforced error.

I have another suggestion -- that airlines augment their policies for how to deal with flights where passengers have to be asked to give up their seats. Instead of running the auction to get volunteers right on the spot, when emotions and other factors come into play, run it at the time the tickets are purchased, when people are more dispassionate. Give people a few different options, like:
  • re-booking on the next flight, even if the next day (an option only for those originating rather than connecting in the city), plus some token compensation
  • re-booking on the next flight, but only if the same day, plus some token compensation
  • ... all kinds of progressively juicier compensation ...
  • two vouchers for first class travel anywhere a partner airline flies
You get the idea. Then the gate agents can call names and give people what they signed up for. For many travelers, this would become part of their stored profile with the airline. For others, it might change for each flight depending on whether it is a business or leisure trip. In any case, it will save tears (and worse) later on.

Update: More good commentary here, highlighting some of United's constraints due to federal regulations and union rules. Quoting:

Department of Transportation regulations set maximum required compensation for involuntary denied boarding (in this case 4 times the passenger’s fare paid up to a maximum of $1350). So they’re not going to offer more than that for voluntary denied boardings, especially since the violent outcome here wasn’t expected and the United Express gate agent had no authority to do more.

So my (somewhat facetiously) proposed options should be simpler -- 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x ticketed price up to the cap, possibly subject to how the transportation will be completed. The limited room to negotiate when the shortage is at hand makes it even more important to resolve these potential conflicts ahead of time.

Update: And another one, describing both Delta's check-in questions and an alternative that gamifies the shortage.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But passengers have much less information about their preferences when they buy their tickets. They may not know whether they have a meeting the next day, whether they will be sick, whether they can't take another day with their in-laws, etc. Yes, they could set a default at purchase time and adjust it later, but that seems like it would be administratively difficult.