United Airlines set the world on first when David Dao was dragged off of a United Express plane and bloodied three years ago. United’s CEO Oscar Munoz apologized… for having to re-accommodate him.
The worldwide outcry was so great that airlines had to revisit their policies for involuntary denied boardings. Instead of just shrugging their shoulders when they don’t have enough seats for passengers and paying out the legal minimum (generally capped at $1350 cash), airlines worked hard to offer bigger amounts in travel vouchers to avoid involuntarily denying boarding to passengers at all.
United, for its part, started giving out up to $10,000 if necessary and gave out $100,000 in vouchers on a single flight as recently as two months ago.
This is how badly United didn’t want to give me cash: pic.twitter.com/sI7vmbeB2Q
— Allison Preiss (@allisonmpreiss) March 22, 2018
However with the airline cutting costs wherever they can, indeed doing so without respect to customers, it appears they’ve nearly returned to the David Dao era of involuntary denied boarding compensation.
Live and Let’s Fly reports that involuntary denied boarding compensation will now be capped at $2500 in vouchers (75% reduction) and involuntary downgrade compensation will be capped at $1500 (85% reduction). According to this source, here’s what United is telling employees about the change:
As we look across our business, we’ve discovered that some policies that made sense in a pre-COVID-19 world no longer do so within the current operating environment, whether that’s due to low travel demand or because existing policies impact far fewer customers.
That’s why, beginning May 1, we are reducing the maximum Electronic Travel Certificate (ETC)/Miles equivalent amount of compensation we offer customers in the event of a voluntary denied boarding from $10,000 to $2,500; and from $10,000 to $1,500 in the event of a downgrade. The escalation and solicitation processes, and fare difference policy for involuntary downgrades, will stay the same.
In addition, the DOT-mandated compensation for involuntary denied boardings will not change and the new ETC/Miles equivalent will be capped at $2,500 ETC. These compensation amounts continue to be higher than what the DOT currently requires for involuntary denied boardings. DOT policy for involuntary denied boarding compensation is 4x the one-way fare but no more than $1,350. With our cap of a $2,500 ETC, we’re still 85% higher than the DOT requirement.
Overall, we’ve seen the number of denied boardings dramatically decrease over the last several years, with a very small number of customers eligible for voluntary denied boarding compensation.
Airport Operations Customer Service Representatives and Contact Center agents should refer to their department communications for additional information about the policy and procedure changes.
While very few customers receive the maximum amount of compensation, every dollar counts in this environment.
We will continue to monitor this ever-changing situation and share additional adjustments to policies and procedures as needed to manage our costs during this crisis.
There aren’t that many flights with too many passengers right now, and we’re only talking about United Airlines scrip, so the cost isn’t huge and neither are the savings.
United points out that they are still doing more than what’s legally required. But looking to DOT minimum requirements as their True North, rather than ‘what’s right’, is what got them into trouble in the first place.
Of course airlines had already started trying to rein in these costs before the pandemic hit.