Acknowledging the disastrous aftermath of the UA3411 incident, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz promised a comprehensive review of the way United did business. The review is complete and major changes are on the horizon.
I’ll address the policy changes in more detail below, but effective immediately (or in the near future) United will:
- Limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only
- Not require customers seated on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk
- Increase customer compensation incentives for voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000
- 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
Analysis of United Policy Changes
In his third statement on the UA3411 incident, Munoz promised–
..a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.
Let’s break down each of the policy changes:
Limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only
This promise is the trickiest of the bunch because of the ambiguity of two key words. What constitutes “safety” and “security”? I asked United spokesman Jonathan Gurein and while he stated that United is still working on more precise guidelines, he stressed that law enforcement would only be necessary in situations that “threatened” passengers and crews.
I’m not sure a more precise guideline is possible other than a promise that a passenger will never be thrown off for revenue reasons.
Not require customers seated on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk
While the “safety or security” caveat is again present, had this policy been in place the UA3411 incident would never happened. Oversell situations inevitably arise but should be handled prior to boarding. Once a passenger boards a flight, s/he has a reasonable expectation of taking the flight…this is a common-sense move.
Increase customer compensation incentives for voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000
Copying Delta, United will offer future flight credit as high as $10K for volunteering your seat on an oversold flight. The problem on UA3411 was that the gate agent was not empowered to go higher. While a theoretical $10,000 limit will likely never be approached, this upper limit will ensure that that there are always takers. Really — is anyone’s time (who flies commercial) worth five digits?
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
This is an important promise because agents (particularly phone agents) are often highly reluctant to accommodate you on another airline, even when that is the glaringly obvious option. Empowering agents to think like Kris Kringle at Macy’s (watch this clip if you don’t get my reference) will pay strong dividends.
United has teamed up with Uber to help you order an Uber directly from the app. What I’d like to see is the ability for United to order you an Uber. That would have been a nice solution to my Uber ride in January from New York to Washington (thanks to a missed United flight). Imagine if United had offered customers $800 plus a chauffeured ride home. We would have never heard of Dr. Dao…
I hope this policy will eventually apply to all customers and not just bump customers.
Ensure crews are booked onto a flight at least 60 minutes prior to departure
If a flight is full, crews will no longer be permitted to overbook, even for essential work trips. Last-minute crew bookings are still fine if there are seats available, but if not the same team mentioned above will work to find crews an alternate solution.
Provide employees with additional annual training
Directly from UA:
United will provide annual training for frontline employees to enhance their skills on an ongoing basis that will equip them to handle the most difficult of situations.
Training will begin in August. Practice makes perfect.
Create an automated system for soliciting volunteers to change travel plans
United will introduce a form of “bump bidding” to online check-in on the web or United mobile app as well as to airport check-in machines. This will allow the carrier to better gauge customers’ interest in bumping by allowing the customers to specify how much they would need to take a bump.
Currently, when a flight is overbooked passengers are asked during check-in if they would like to take a bump. An amount is already specified. Accepting the offer does not mean you will be bumped or even must be bumped if volunteers are ultimately needed, though it does add your name to the volunteer list.
Reduce the amount of overbooking
United has evaluated its overbooking policy. As a result, adjustments have been made to reduce overbooking on flights that historically have experienced lower volunteer rates, particularly flights on smaller aircraft and the last flights of the day to a particular destination.
Empower employees to resolve customer service issues in the moment
Later this year, United flight attendants (by July) and gate agents (later in the year) will be empowered to proactively compensate customers when a disservice occurs. Compensation will include mileage or credit for future flights and be administered through a new “in the moment” app.
Eliminate the red tape on permanently lost bags by adopting a “no questions asked” policy on lost luggage
Although tangentially related to the UA3411 incident, United will no longer fight you over compensation if it “permanently” loses your bag. In clarifying the policy, Gurein stated that a bag lost for more than 72 hours would qualify for a $1500 payment. No extensive documentation of the bag’s value will be required. If your bag and its contents are valued at more than $1500, additional documentation will be required. United plans to have this process in place by the end of June.
Here’s an infographic on the new United policy changes:
We can debate how much wiggle room United has in honoring these new customer-service pledges, but every single policy change is customer-friendly. Now comes the execution. As the top of the infographic above states, “Actions speak louder than words.” United now has the chance to re-invent its poor customer service reputation. Hopefully in honoring these new commitments, customers of all stripes will find “the Friendly Skies” friendly once again.