United Airlines is launching a pilot program that offers rewards to passengers willing to give up their seat on overbooked flights not at the airport, but days in advance.
As part of United's “Flex-Schedule Program,” it will begin sending passengers email notifications several days ahead their flight, offering $250 travel vouchers to volunteers willing to reschedule. Volunteers will be rebooked on a flight of their choosing, using the same airports and seat preferences, within 24 hours of the original flight.
The news, first reported by Bloomberg, comes two months after United was forced to revamp its policies in the wake of the Flight 3411 incident where a passenger was forcibly removed from an overbooked flight after refusing to give up his seat.
Changes at the time included upping the offer for volunteers to give up their seats to as much as $10,000.
With the “Flex-Schedule Program,” United hopes to entice more passengers to volunteer to be bumped without the hassle of traveling back and forth to the airport. United hopes it saves it from actually having to pay out $10,000 to a bumped passenger.
United vice president for pricing and revenue management Dave Barters told Bloomberg that the idea really is to free up a seat for someone who needs it more (and would pay more for it), while rewarding those who are flexible, all while keeping stress down for passengers, gate agents and United employees. The program “won’t mean we’re overbooking the aircraft more,” he said, but wouldn’t lead to less overbooking either.
According to Bloomberg, other airlines, including Alaska Air in September and Qantas in October, will start offering similar programs using the same technology from Volantio, the aviation startup that is working with United.