After recent public blow-back against poor—and even abusive—service on U.S. airlines, are we witnessing the beginnings of a welcome customer-first era in air travel? United Airlines, object of the most withering criticism after cellphone video of a Kentucky doctor being dragged off a United jet on April 9 for refusing to give up his seat on an overbooked flight, has announced it will make “10 substantial changes to how it flies, serves and respects its customers.”
In a separate but terse press release, the airline announced it had reached an “amicable resolution” with Dr. David Dao, the object of United’s roughshod treatment. The amount of the settlement was not made public.
“Every customer deserves to be treated with the highest levels of service and deepest sense of dignity and respect,” said Oscar Munoz, United’s CEO, in unveiling the changes. “Two weeks ago, we failed to meet that standard and we profoundly apologize. However, actions speak louder than words.”
Those actions include not calling in security or the police, and no longer requiring a person to give up a seat involuntarily, unless safety or security is at risk. When customers agree to be bumped off a flight, United will now offer them up to $10,000 in return. The air carrier promises to create an automated system for soliciting volunteers willing to be bumped.
United also commits to reducing what put it in the public-relations doghouse in the first place—over-booking, or selling more tickets than there are seats for a flight.
Overbooking is standard operating procedure at nearly every airline, to avoid flying with empty seats when a few passengers are no-shows. JetBlue was the only major U.S. airline with a policy against overbooking, but this week Southwest Airlines said it would stop overselling seats. This, too, is big news. Last year, Southwest bumped 15,000 passengers off flights, more than any other U.S. airline, according to the Associated Press.
Other United changes involve enhanced employee training, support and authority to resolve customer service issues on the spot. Several of these new policies are effective immediately, while others will be rolled out through the remainder of the year, the airline said.
“This is a turning point for all of us at United,” Munoz said, “and it signals a culture shift toward becoming a better, more customer-focused airline. Our customers should be at the center of everything we do, and these changes are just the beginning of how we will earn back their trust.”