United Releases Its 10-Point Plan to Avoid Roughing Up Passengers

Soon after Dr David Dao was dragged off United Express flight 3411, the airline said it would be doing a full review of its policies and procedures and release a plan of action by April 30. Apparently nobody checked to see that April 30 was a Sunday this year, so and in time for the news cycle to catch it.

It’s a 10-point plan, though not all seem to be related to this one incident. Some are entirely expected, but some are surprising in that I can’t believe they haven’t been done already. Shall we go through each point? Sure, why not…

Limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only.
Verdict: Good plan, as long as not everything becomes a safety/security issue
We already knew this one was coming from what CEO Oscar Munoz had said previously. This seems like an obvious thing, but, well, apparently it wasn’t. Now the key is making sure United doesn’t stretch the definition of safety/security or this could end poorly.

Not require customers seated on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk.
Verdict: I like it
We also knew this one was coming from previous comments, and I like the plan. It’s incredibly rare for an airline to have to pull a passenger off the airplane today unless it’s a safety/security reason. (Remember, safety would include things like the airline needing to take people off due to a last minute weight restriction.) Since it’s already rare, it makes sense to clearly explain that it will never happen. How do you avoid it from ever happening? Well, you move on to the next point…

Increase customer compensation incentives for voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000.
Verdict: I wouldn’t have given a number, but the sentiment is right
If you need to get someone off the airplane and you don’t want to remove that person involuntarily, then it stands to reason you need to pay more to get volunteers. Delta has already done this. It didn’t publicly announce the figures, but word got out anyway. I don’t know why United felt the need to put the $10,000 figure out there, but it did. United tells me that it hasn’t been determined if any agent can go to $10,000 or if a supervisor is required, but the point is that the airline can go a lot higher than the measly $800 it offered Dr Dao.

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.
Verdict: How the heck does this not already exist?
This one shocked me. I know that Delta and American both have teams that work on finding reaccommodation options for travelers in a variety of situations. I thought United had one too, but if it does, it apparently never worked on overbooking situations. That’s crazy, and this is long overdue. I mean, we even had a team doing this at little America West when I worked there 15 years ago.

Ensure crews are booked onto a flight at least 60 minutes prior to departure.
Verdict: I’m conflicted
I didn’t like this when I first heard it, because you can imagine plenty of situations where you would want to get a crew on the airplane even if it’s under an hour before departure. I felt better once I read the fine print that this rule will only apply if there are no empty seats, so it’s solely meant to avoid denying boarding to paying passengers. But still, think about a situation where the option is to cancel a downline flight and inconvenience 100 people or get some highly-paid volunteers to get off a flight so the crew can get where they need to go. I wouldn’t want this happening often, but it seems like there should be times you’d want more flexibility.

Provide employees with additional annual training.
Verdict: Always a good plan… if it doesn’t suck
It sounds corporate-y and terrible when United says it will provide training to front line employees “to enhance their skills on an ongoing basis that will equip them to handle the most difficult of situations.” But if it really does that, then good.

Create an automated system for soliciting volunteers to change travel plans.
Verdict: Again, how is this not already a thing?
Delta has done this for some time, and it works very well. When people check in, the airline offers the opportunity to volunteer. Everyone is happy. Unfortunately this won’t roll out until “later this year.”

Reduce the amount of overbooking.
Verdict: I don’t get it
I can’t say I get why this is part of this plan since overbooking wasn’t the issue with Dr Dao anyway. That being said, it would be a logical reaction that when the cost of denying boarding goes up (in the form of higher payouts being offered) then you would expect to tweak the models to be more conservative in overbooking. But just because the airline is authorizing its people to go higher doesn’t mean that the costs will really go up. I would think if I were United, I’d wait and adjust the models if I saw costs going up. This seems like an overreaction to me, especially since a higher payout means volunteer rates will go up. This seems premature.

Empower employees to resolve customer service issues in the moment.
Verdict: Yes
There is nothing more annoying than having to write in to customer relations (and only when you’ve completed your entire journey) to get compensation for a mess you encountered along the way. Starting in July for flight attendants and by year-end for gate agents, they’ll be empowered to provide compensation right on the spot with a new app. Nice.

Eliminate the red tape on permanently lost bags by adopting a “no questions asked” policy on lost luggage.
Verdict: Seems like a good thing even though it’s unrelated.
Ok, clearly we’re getting off topic here since this has nothing to do with Dr Dao, but now if United loses your bag permanently (as in, you never see it again unless you happen to find it ), then you get $1,500 with no questions asked. If you had higher value stuff in there, well, you’ll have to prove it.

These mostly seem like decent proposals, but I’m curious how you all take it. Does it seem authentic? Has United really taken this situation to heart?

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