Airlines Respond to Incidents with Apologies, Policy Changes

United Airlines announced a significant change to its policy of giving off-duty flight crews priority seating over passengers who have already boarded. The airline said crew members would be allocated seats at least one hour prior to departure, the BBC reported.

The announcement follows a recent episode involving a passenger onboard a United Airlines flight out of Chicago. The passenger, Dr. David Dao, reportedly was asked to vacate his seat on the overbooked flight to make room for United Airlines flight crew. When he refused, Dao was dragged off the plane by an aviation security officer.

Although United Airlines’ CEO Oscar Munoz later issued a public apology on behalf of the airline, Dao has hired an attorney, who said during a press conference that his client will “probably” file a lawsuit.

United Airlines’ decision coincided with another incident involving passengers who were removed from a United flight at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston.

Michael Hohl told reporters he and his fiancee were the last to board United Airlines flight 1737 from Houston to Costa Rica this past weekend when they discovered another passenger sprawled across their assigned seats, napping.

Hohl said the couple elected to sit three rows from their assigned seats, but the airline reported they picked an upgrade section. The couple was escorted off the plane by a U.S. Marshal, reportedly without incident. Hohl claimed they offered to pay for the upgrade.

In an official statement, United Airlines said, “These passengers repeatedly attempted to sit in upgraded seating which they did not purchase and they would not follow crew instructions to return to their assigned seats.”

Some travelers willing to pay extra to avoid United

Meanwhile, a Morning Consult poll found that among respondents who had heard recent negative publicity surrounding United Airlines, 79 percent said they would prefer to fly American Airlines if offered the choice between a $204 nonstop flight on either airline.

It’s not all bad news for United. The Morning Consult poll found the cheaper the airfare, the more likely respondents were to ignore negative news and select United Airlines to reach their destinations. Among respondents who had not heard any negative recent news about United Airlines, 56 percent said they would choose it over American if offered significantly lower airfare.

Delta could shell out nearly $10,000 for overbooking

Another carrier, Delta Air Lines, has reportedly informed employees they are allowed to offer passengers substantial airfare compensation if they are asked to give up their seats on overbooked flights. The Associated Press reported the new policy after obtaining an internal Delta Air Lines memo authorizing gate agents to offer bumped passengers up to $2,000 in compensation. Delta supervisors are allowed to offer as much as $9,950, up from $1,350, AP reported.