United Airlines is setting an example for the rest of the industry, though perhaps not quite in the way it would have chosen. United's unceremonious dragging of a passenger down the aisle and out the door to make room for a non-paying crew member has inspired other airlines to be a bit more careful before laying hands on their customers and to reduce overbooking.
Southwest joined the TLC movement today, saying that by the end of June it will eliminate overselling of seats. CEO Gary Kelly said it is actually not a big problem and claimed he seldom hears complaints about it, but vowed to root it out anyway.
JetBlue says it already avoids selling more seats than it actually has but other airlines have been a bit less forthcoming with regard to their practices.
United said today that it would "reduce" but not eliminate overbooking.
Suit settled, United objects to use of "random"
United today reportedly settled the lawsuit brought by Dr. David Dao, the Kentucky physician thrown off a flight from Chicago to Louisville. The suit named both United and the City of Chicago. Terms of the settlement were not available.
Tom Demetrio, an attorney for Dr. Dao, said in a statement that he hopes “all other airlines make similar changes and follow United’s lead in helping to improve the passenger flying experience with an emphasis on empathy, patience, respect and dignity,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
United meanwhile, objected to a ConsumerAffairs report earlier today in which we referred to Dr. Dao having been picked "at random" by a computer for expulsion from his flight.
"It is not accurate to say 'a computer picked Dao at random and airline personnel told him he was being involuntarily bumped,'" United spokeswoman Erin Benson said in an email. "When no customer accepted the offer, 'The agent then followed the involuntary denial of boarding selection process to determine which customers would be asked to leave the plane.' While 'automated,' this process is not random."
We asked Benson to clarify and to specify what criteria were used to pick Dr. Dao if in fact the process was not random. She responded:
United's involuntary denied boarding (IDB) process is automated and customers are not subject to discretionary choice by agents. This is our process:
- First, agents will deny boarding if a passenger does not have a seat assignment prior to boarding the aircraft.
- Customers are then sorted by fare class (estimated fare paid) and type of itinerary.
- Customers with the lowest paid fare are placed at the top of the list for involuntary denial of boarding.
- If a group of customers paid the same fare, then the group is sorted by time of check-in.
- Customers with frequent flyer status will not be involuntarily denied boarding, unless all of the remaining passengers have frequent flyer status, in which case the lowest status will move to the top of the IDB list.
- Customers with special needs (unaccompanied minors, passengers with disabilities) are excluded and are not involuntarily denied boarding.