United Airlines to offer passengers up to US$10,000 to give up seats after overbooked flight scandal
The change is part of a raft of new commitments from the airline after it came under fire for forcibly removing a passenger from one of its flights
United Airlines will offer passengers up to US$10,000 in compensation to give up seats on fully booked flights, in a change of policy after a scandal that saw a paying customer forcibly removed from an aircraft.
The sweetener was among 10 policy adjustments unveiled on Thursday after an Asian American doctor was forcibly removed from a United flight earlier this month, sparking worldwide anger.
The beleaguered airline said the changes were “just the beginning of how we will earn back trust”.
David Dao, a 69-year-old Vietnamese American doctor, suffered a concussion, bloodied face and lost two front teeth, according to his lawyer, as he was removed from his seat to make room for airline staff. He is now suing the firm.
In China, online footage of the incident has been viewed more than 600 million times.
Fearing an impact on bookings, United chief executive Oscar Munoz reportedly met with Chinese officials in the US in an attempt to ease concerns.
The Chicago-based carrier’s revised compensation offer trumps that of American arch-rival Delta Air Lines, which has authorised staff to offer up to US$9,950.
United passengers will no longer be required to give up seats involuntarily unless it is a matter of safety or security. The carrier also pledged to scale back overbooking.
The new compensation rate highlights stark differences between the levels of consumer protection in the United States, Europe and Asia.
Airlines within the European Union and any foreign airline departing from a European airport must abide by laws that mean passengers are eligible for compensation to the tune of up to HK$5,000 if they are denied boarding or are hit by flight cancellations or delays.
In Hong Kong, the Consumer Councilhas often fallen silent on the subject of air passenger rights. No legislation on the issue exists in the city. In December, disruption caused by a snowstorm in Japan that left thousands stranded for days at a Sapporo airport prompted the watchdog only to warn travellers they should buy insurance.
Local airlines have offered up to HK$780 in compensation for delays in the past.
United said its new pledges were part of meaningful action to “make things right” but to also reflect on the wrongs that caused the David Dao incident.
“Every customer deserves to be treated with the highest levels of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect,” Munoz said.
The airline said the failures on flight 3411 stemmed from company-wide policy failings, and that calling on law enforcement to assist when there was no security or safety threat was wrong.
It also said it was a mistake to book crew onto the flight while boarding was under way, since existing procedures stated that in the event a flight is overbooked volunteers must be found to give up seats prior to boarding.
United also acknowledged it failed to offer adequate compensation or alternative transport for those removed from the plane.
United Airlines has pledged to:
● Limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only.
● Not require customers seated on a plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk.
● Increase customer compensation incentives to up to US$10,000 for passengers voluntarily not boarding a flight.
● Establish a customer solutions team to provide agents with creative solutions such as using nearby airports, other airlines or ground transportation to get customers to their final destination.
● Ensure crews are booked onto a flight at least an hour 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.