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
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.