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Overbooked Flights in United Airlines

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Joshua Carlos I. Jose                                                                       Emaj 3

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        “Overbooked Flights in United Airlines”        

        On Sunday 9th April 2017 Chicago Aviation Police officials dragged paying passenger 69 year old Vietnamese American Dr. David Dao off United Express Flight 3411 from Chicago O’ Hare International Airport to Louisville, Kentucky to make room for 4 United Airlines Employees. Cellphone videos of Dr. Dao being dragged off Flight 3411 elicited outrage. According to passengers, Dr. David Dao refused to giveup his seat on the Chicago to Louisville flight because he needed to see patients in the next morning. The footage shows him screaming as he was forced out of his seat by aviation security officers and dragged down the aisle by his arms. There was visible blood on his mouth, and his glasses and shirt were crooked. As a result of his rough treatment, Dr. Dao was hospitalized and suffered a concussion, a broken nose, injury to the sinuses, and the loss of two front tooth. CEO Oscar Munoz issued a statement “I apologize for having to re-accomodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.” Munoz failed to acknowledge the injuries Dr. Dao suffered. The lack of empathy in United Airlines response added fuel to the fire and caused another wave of backlash towards the company, this incident highlights the power of social media, how one isolated incident can become a global PR disaster overnight. The debate over what the problem in this case is ongoing, was it a bad call by flight crew? Was it the fault of an uncooperative passenger?

        When I first watched the video I was shocked and horrified, I’ve paid close attention to the crisis, watching as the internet’s mob mobilized, while shaking my head at how United Airlines responded. It is not an impressive move, they could have offered a hotel room to whoever wanted to leave, and if no one wanted to volunteer they could upped the offer until someone did. Yes, they’ll probably get into scenarios where they are losing money. Tough but it is way better than having someone dragged out of the plane or they could revise their overbooking policy wherein the crew members can’t remove passengers who is already seated. What if we were to address the problem in a way that leads to a solution? The problem is not overbooking nor is it the unabashed pursuit of profit by airline CEOs. It is not even the chaos that arose when one passenger peacefully resisted the system. The problem is random cancellation, knowing that it’s the algorithmically driven selection of passengers to de-board, and not the initial overbooking itself that is the problem. We need a system that allows us to buy the predictability of being in or out of the category of passengers who will be selected for involuntary rescheduling. To do this, airlines could simply implement a new category between the stand by ticket and the basic economy ticket: the first bumped ticket. Airlines that wanted to overbook a plane by five percent would simply ensure that five percent of their tickets were sold as first bumped. Another avenue would be to make this a negative option: passengers could buy the right not to be bumped for a fee. However, this is implemented we would move to a system with greater transparency and predictability for passengers. This would make it possible for the airline to offer even lower headline fares and for semi flexible passengers to plan accordingly and enjoy the savings. Passengers would be able to read up ahead of time about the compensation they would receive for being displaced and airlines could communicate what their algorithms predict the likely delay to be. Consumers get the choice to pay the premium for a more secure seat. Airlines get the choice about how much to overbook flights. This would benefit everyone because the problem presented by the existing system is an inability to plan.

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