United To Offer Up To $10K To Bump Passengers; Will Reduce Overbooking

CHICAGO (CBS) — Seeking to avoid another fiasco like the video of a bloodied man being dragged off a plane at O’Hare International Airport, United Airlines has promised to offer passengers up to $10,000 to give up their seats on overbooked flights.

United has outlined 10 policy changes in the wake of the incident on flight 3411 on April 9, when Dr. David Dao was dragged off the plane after refusing to give up his seat for airline employees that needed to get on the already full plane. The crew had tried to find four passengers willing to give up their seats to allow four United employees to get on the flight, but no one volunteered, despite United’s offers of up to $800.

Dao suffered a concussion and a broken nose, and lost two teeth when Chicago Department of Aviation security officers pulled him out of his seat and dragged him down the aisle after the airline requested help removing him from the plane.

“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. However, actions speak louder than words. Today, we are taking concrete, meaningful action to make things right and ensure nothing like this ever happens again,” United CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement Thursday morning.

From now on, United said it no longer will require customers to give up their seat once they have boarded the plane, unless there is a safety or security risk involved. As previously announced, United also will no longer ask law enforcement to remove a passenger from a flight unless there is a safety or security issue.

The airline also will offer compensation of up to $10,000 for passengers to give up their seats if a plane is overbooked or airline employees need a seat on the same flight.

After a review of the incident on flight 3411, United blamed four “failures” for the fiasco: requesting the help of law enforcement when there was no safety or security risk, rebooking United employees at the last minute, offering insufficient financial compensation and alternate transportation options to get passengers to willingly change flights, and failing to provide sufficient training and authority to its employees to resolve the situation.

“Our review shows that many things went wrong that day, but the headline is clear: our policies got in the way of our values and procedures interfered in doing what’s right. This is a turning point for all of us at United 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,” Munoz said.

The other policy changes announced Thursday include promises to:

• Establish a customer solutions team to provide agents with creative solutions such as using nearby airports, other airlines or ground transportations to get customers to their final destination.
• Ensure crews are booked onto a flight at least 60 minutes prior to departure.
• Provide employees with additional annual training.
• Create an automated system for soliciting volunteers to change travel plans.
• Reduce the amount of overbooking.
• Empower employees to resolve customer service issues in the moment.
• Eliminate the red tape on permanently lost bags by adopting a “no questions asked” policy on lost luggage.

Dao’s attorney, Thomas Demetrio, praised United’s policy changes.

“Both Dr. Dao and I applaud United for promptly addressing the many issues that have plagued passenger satisfaction in the arena of airline customer service. All of its policy changes announced today are passenger friendly and are simple, commonsense decisions on United’s part to help minimize the stress involved in the flying experience. Dr. Dao is proud, despite his ordeal, to have played a role in spearheading these announced changes. And going forward, he hopes United takes the lead in inspiring the entire airline industry to supply passengers the dignity, respect and fairness we all deserve,” Demetrio said in a statement Thursday.

United customers also seemed to be pleased with the changes.

“It’s great for passengers, because it’s really going to enable us to, if something does negatively impact us, it’s going to compensate us very well,” Jim Cobb said. “I was on the way here thinking it would be nice if the plane was booked, and we could get bumped for an hour or two.”

Lyle Laster said he doesn’t think the changes will stick.

“That’s a lot of money to throw out there for things that happen every day,” he said.

Delta also announced earlier this month it would offer nearly $10,000 to passengers to give up seats on overbooked flights.

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