We’ve all heard the horror stories about people being forced off airplanes due to overbooking. Here is one way the airlines are dealing with this problem.
United Airlines, one of the worst (or most publicized) offenders is quietly rolling out a new technology to perhaps eliminate the problem of involuntary bumping, according to a June 12th Bloomberg article by Nikki Ekstein. It’s called the Flex-Schedule Program, which, in partnership with Volantio (a third-party aviation technology startup), will offer buyouts up to five days in advance. Only those who book on
United.com and opt into receiving marketing messages will be eligible.
When you book, you will be offered the opportunity to receive an e-mail newsletter in which you will have the option to sign up for potential rewards – so long as you’re willing to budge a little on your flight itinerary. In exchange for accepting the ‘tweak,’ you will be given a voucher up to $250.
The article says you will never be asked to change dates or airports, and your seat preferences will carry over. You might even be given (rarely) an upgrade. Accept the bid if you wish, and you’ll be rebooked within 24 hours.
The program’s creator sold the idea to United as an opportunity to change the narrative with the help of innovative technology, rather than cumbersome regulations. “If you can offer a buyout to a customer in advance, everyone will be happier. For airlines, it represents a release valve – a way to shuffle people around when you’re capacity constrained. This benefits the customer as well, you’re creating choice for them.” A classic win-win proposition.
I think this is a great idea. So far, United is the only one piloting the program, targeting their Mileage Plus members. Other airlines (Tiger Airways, Alaska Air, and Qantas) have also signed on with Volantio, starting in the coming months. Delta has something similar, but just offers it 24 hours in advance, when you’re checking in online.