Southwest Vows To Stop Overbooking

by Jessica Montevago
Southwest Vows To Stop Overbooking

Photo: Ken Lund


Southwest Airlines last week vowed to put an end to the customer-unfriendly policy of overbooking flights before the month is out.

It joins JetBlue, whose CEO some time ago began phasing out the traditional airline habit of overbooking flights and bumping passengers, and United, which announced it will reduce overbooking in the wake of Flight 3411, although won't stop it outright. 

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told the Associated Press the carrier already was considering ending the practice, but “the issue gained more urgency” after the United incident. A Southwest spokesperson confirmed it could be implemented as soon as May 8.

Interestingly, while Southwest had the highest forced bumping rate among large U.S. carriers, taking nearly 15,000 passengers off planes in 2016, according to Transportation Department data, it still received the fewest number of complaints.  

“Better forecasting tools and a new reservations system coming online" in May will allow the airline to eliminate the use of overbooking, Southwest said.

United has modified its procedures since the incident as well, increasing customer compensation to up to $10,000 for voluntary denied boarding, and said it will no longer require customers already aboard a flight to give up their seats and will reduce the amount of overbooking.

Overbooking, a standard industry practice, allows airlines to sell more tickets than there are seats to make up the cost of no-show fliers. Federal aviation regulations require airlines to ask for volunteers before choosing someone to boot. Airlines often offer monetary compensation, though the amount is up to them, but they are mandated to pay passengers who do not arrive at their final destination within two hours of their original arrival time.

The issue of overbooking also is likely to be on the agenda on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks, as the House Transportation Committee holds hearings on the United incident to determine "what can be done to improve the flying experience." United’s CEO Oscar Munozhas been summoned to testify.

Reuters reported that its analysis of Department of Transportation data found that between 2010 and 2016, the largest U.S. airlines decreased the number of passengers they bumped by more than 42%, even as their number of occupied seats rose from 80.8% to 84%.

American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have said they do not plan to change their policies regarding overbooking.

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