United Re-Opens Boarding Door and Delays Flight to Solicit Volunteers, Seat a Family of Three

A passenger on United’s flight 1697 from New York LaGuardia to Chicago O’Hare this morning reports that the 11 a.m. Airbus A319 departure was overbooked. United solicited 10 volunteers, offering each $800 travel vouchers.

The plane boards full, the door is shut, and the safety video begins. However the passenger says “I hear [one flight attendant] say to other [flight attendant,] ‘They’re bringing the jetway back out.'”

The aircraft boarding door is opened back up. A gate agent comes on and gets on the public address system to announce “We’re looking for 4 volunteers, we can get you to Chicago at 10:30 tonight, $1,500 voucher.”

Apparently 3 passengers sitting on the aircraft took them up on the offer. A fourth “volunteers contingent on her being able to get from [Chicago to Los Angeles].” The gate agent checks on this. Meanwhile,

[A flight attendant] starts proposing that some of the passengers around the now-empty seats reseat themselves to be more comfortable, but other [flight attendant] stops her and says: “No, there will be people taking those seats.”. First [one] says: “Oh, I thought it was a weight and balance issue.”

A family of three — a mother and “two middle-school-aged kids” — board and take the seats vacated by the three volunteers. The fourth seat isn’t needed. The plane pushes back, 30 minutes late.

It’s highly unusual to re-open a boarding door for passengers once it has been closed, let alone on a flight that’s already full. I’ve reached out to United for clarification, who responded that it may be Monday before they’re able to offer further insight.

My theory: this family of three was confirmed on the flight but lacked seat assignments. The flight needed more volunteers than had been taken at push back. So United re-opened the aircraft door to solicit more volunteers rather than involuntarily deny boarding.

Post-David Dao, and even though no one needed to be dragged off the flight, United goes to great lengths to treat passenger denied boardings as voluntary rather than involuntary such as this woman who received a $10,000 travel credit to give up her confirmed space voluntarily.

So much for topping out at $800, or DOT-mandated denied boarding compensation (cash). Other airlines have also revamped their policies around paying denied boarding compensation. Last year Delta paid out $4000 in travel credit to a woman flying to South Bend, Indiana for a Georgia Bulldogs – Notre Dame game. She still made it in the night before the game.

American apparently even paid out as much as $250,000 on a single flight when they swapped aircraft to a smaller plane (something that would have exempted them from paying DOT compensation altogether).

A lucky family of three, though, that United considered it worth trading off ‘D0’ and ensuring they made it to Chicago as-planned (while even being willing to shorten some passenger connections in order to do it).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. We do not know anything of the circumstances of the family, only that they were “lucky”…..maybe one of them was enroute to receive an organ transplant. Maybe going to a funeral of a family member.
    It really is not our business, and glad that United did not give out details.
    Everyone was accommodated.
    So unless this is intended to compliment United, what was the point?

  2. It is not highly unusual. I would venture to say that it happens in EWR, more than once a week. This is not news, just clickbait.

  3. I blame this stupidity on United’s basic economy fares. They won’t give out seat assignments and then they over book the flight. They shouldn’t be stranding any passengers if they accept the reservation plus their money. No excuse for this. I flew AA last week and the gate agent got into a big heated argument with a passenger trying to bring a carry on bag onto the plane with a BE ticket. The airlines have turned their gate agents in security guards. It’s a ridiculous policy and just creates a bad traveling environment for everyone. Do I really need to stand there watching a gate agent and a passenger arguing over this?

  4. Fantastic. This is the way the system should work when planes are overbooked. Kudos to UA and thank you again to Dr. Dao!

  5. I assume they paid everyone, including those who initially volunteered for $800 the full $1500?

  6. @nick you shouldn’t assume that all of the earlier volunteers got the final higher amount.

    The most likely thing that happened here is what the blog author is theorizing….closing the door is really important for the sake of not processing upgrades and such EXCEPT when they realize they’re gonna IDB three pax (whoops shoulda noticed earlier) and pay out some real money unless they can find three more folks to take much less vauluable coupons.

    The only way I’m gonna voluntarily leave a fight is IF there a real heart string pulling reason to swap. Voluntarily deciding to waste nine or whatever extra hours in an airport isn’t worth a $1k coupon. If that later flight you’re now taking is delayed or cancelled tough, you’ll get home the next day. Getting a good seat on your new flight can be tough too. Now if I was on a TPAC in middle coach and I walk and get a nice F ticket then that’s on the table but I suspect that pretty much will never happen.

  7. In January, I gave up a 1st class seat IAD to SAN for a $3,000 voucher in exchange for a confirmed seat on the same flight in Economy plus. Turns out there was no one sitting next to me, so I actually preferred the Economy plus seat.

  8. If they were United Global Services on a flight that got delayed or cancelled I bet they’d do similar, pushing people off another plane to accommodate.

  9. I actually love how divided the country is. Owe it all to Trumpy.
    Even on a site like this which is usually non political.

  10. Amazing how batshit crazy the left has gotten!!! When was the last time we had a “discussion” without some reference to President Trump? No matter what the subject is some looney liberal just has to bring in the current occupant of the White House.


  11. @8bb8b8 – shhhh! The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club!

    Oh wait- do you mean the only way I’m gonna voluntarily leave a “flight”?

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