Image: Courtesy of United Airlines

Image via United Airlines

APEX Insight: United Airlines has released a new policy outlining how to handle passengers on overbooked flights, in addition to other customer service changes. “Today, we are taking concrete, meaningful action to make things right and ensure nothing like this ever happens again,” says United’s CEO Oscar Munoz.

After a highly publicized incident on April 9 that involved a law enforcement officer forcefully dragging a United Airlines passenger from an overbooked flight – and injuring him in the act – the airline released a new policy for overbooked flights.

“Today, we are taking concrete, meaningful action to make things right and ensure nothing like this ever happens again,” says United’s CEO Oscar Munoz. The new policy states that law enforcement will not remove customers from a flight, and customers will not be required to give up their seat once on board – except in matters of safety or security.

“Today, we are taking concrete, meaningful action to make things right and ensure nothing like this ever happens again.” – Oscar Munoz, United Airlines

The release, which is accompanied by an infographic, contains 10 promises from the airline and a statement from Munoz that differs notably in tone from his original reaction to the incident, which he described as a “re-accommodation” of passengers. Around the world, many felt this comment was not appropriately sympathetic to the passenger involved. LA Times writer Michael Hiltzik even went so far as to call it “Orwellian doublespeak”.

Under United’s new policy, if a flight is overbooked, there will be a procedure to solicit volunteers to give up their seats. Passengers who are rebooked will receive compensation of up to $10,000 – a slight bump up from the $9,950 limit Delta Air Lines implemented in reaction to the incident.

“Later this year, we will introduce a new automated process at the time of check-in, both at the airport and via the United app, that will gauge a customer’s interest in giving up his or her seat on overbooked flights in exchange for compensation,” said Maggie Schmerin, a spokesperson for United. “If selected, that customer will receive their requested compensation and be booked on a later United flight.”

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In addition to these changes, United will dedicate a team to making travel arrangements for passengers who give up their seats, and develop employee training tools on how to solve problems quickly and efficiently. Passengers with permanently lost bags will also be offered $1,500 – no questions asked.

“Every customer deserves to be treated with the highest levels of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect. Two weeks ago, we failed to meet that standard and we profoundly apologize,” says Munoz, who has now been denied a promotion to become the airline’s chairman. “Our policies got in the way of our values and procedures interfered in doing what’s right.”

Airlines have been depicted in an unfavorable light of late, following the United incident and another, where an American Airlines flight attendant aggressively pulled a stroller from a mother who was carrying her baby. Both incidents were filmed by passengers and went viral, generating widespread criticism across the news and on social media.