Linda Jojo is the Chief Digital Officer for United Airlines as well as the Executive Vice President of Technology. In a recent wide-ranging interview with the Wall Street Journal, she explained why United will continue to overbook flights.
Overbooking occurs when more seats are sold than available. Nearly every flight on United is authorized to be overbooked, but very few ever require volunteers or involuntary denied boarding. Jojo explains why.
We know that people flying between two business locations on a Monday morning are probably going to show up. We know people who are flying to a resort location are probably going to show up. But there’s a certain percentage of people who don’t set their alarm right, or hit traffic and don’t make that early-morning flight. We also know the last flight of the day, everybody’s there to get back to their city. So what we’re doing is helping further refine the analytics to understand which flights have a higher probability of no-shows. That’s basically one or two [seats oversold]. If the people who bought those last two seats in that oversell situation are actually there and get on the plane because two other people changed their plans for whatever reason, we’re actually helping those customers.
It’s all about analytics and correctly forecasting who will show up and who will not. United’s premise is this: overselling almost always helps rather than hurts by allowing more people to reach their destination.
United: No “black-and-white rules” on overbooking
The WSJ follows up with a question on whether United will continue to overbook, a question that seems foolish in light of Jojo’s previous answer.
In April, we announced 10 new initiatives to improve the customer experience, including reducing overbooking, which has helped to dramatically reduce involuntary denied boardings by more than 80% from last year. Overbooking is an example of where today’s new techniques of machine learning and analytics can help us stay away from black-and-white rules and look at past behaviors, such as which flights have the most number of historical no-shows, and current events—is there something unique going on in a city—and situationally determine if a specific flight should allow overbooking or not.
United will stay away from “back-and-white” rules, meaning it will continue to overbook. Jojo claims that United’s technology investments and new customer service pledge will avoid any future Dao incidents. That’s a given, but if United is better able to predict the no-show rates, we should see paradoxically an increase in oversells with a reduction in involuntary denied boardings.
You can read the entire interview here — it’s worth a read. What also caught my attention is United’s use of mobile devices by FAs onboard to signal out passengers with special needs like tight connections. If your connection is tight, your seat will show up as red and FAs will be prompted to provide you connecting gate information and if applicable, help you get off the plane quickly.
The bottom line: technology is providing great potential in terms of overbooking and all areas of the customer experience.