How much is your seat worth?

United Air­lines has fi­nally agreed to pay a de­cent sum of money to pas­sen­gers will­ing to give up their seats in an over­book­ing sit­u­a­tion

Cape Breton Post - - Destinations - BY ARTHUR FROMMER KING FEA­TURES SYN­DI­CATE Arthur Frommer is the pi­o­neer­ing founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book se­ries. He co-hosts the ra­dio pro­gram, “The Travel Show,” with his travel cor­re­spon­dent daugh­ter Pauline Frommer. Find more des­ti­na­tions

The po­si­tion of United Air­lines on the sub­ject of over­book­ing air­line seats gets more cu­ri­ous by the mo­ment. Re­act­ing in panic to a re­cent pub­lic-re­la­tions dis­as­ter (the man­han­dling of Dr. David Dao, who re­fused to give up his seat on an over­booked flight), the air­line now claims it will pay such pas­sen­gers up to $10,000 for vol­un­tar­ily leav­ing fu­ture flights.

Of course, no one ex­pects United (or any other air car­rier) to ever pay as much as $10,000 to fu­ture co­op­er­a­tive pas­sen­gers.

Those of us who have en­coun­tered over­booked sit­u­a­tions, as I have, will re­call that all sen­si­ble air­lines adopt a much sim­pler pol­icy: If a flight is over­booked, they con­duct some­thing of a re­verse auc­tion, pro­vid­ing an as­cend­ing list of pay­ments to peo­ple who will help out the air­line by leav­ing the flight — and nowhere near $10,000 is re­quired.

Who among us would fail to give up our seat (for a later flight) if we were of­fered a few thou­sand dol­lars for do­ing so? Why United failed to re­duce the num­ber of flight pas­sen­gers dur­ing the David Dao in­ci­dent is a mys­tery — and one ex­plained by the fre­quent blind­ness United Air­lines has shown with re­spect to cus­tomer ser­vice. A smart air­line

starts the re­verse auc­tion with a pro­posed pay­ment, then raises the price a few hun­dred dol­lars or so at a time un­til it finds a pas­sen­ger will­ing to ac­cept the re­ward for help­ing out — and nowhere near $10,000 is ever re­quired. Why doesn’t United sim­ply adopt such an ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion to the over­book­ing prob­lem?

In the mean­time, var­i­ous leg­is­la­tors are still ad­vo­cat­ing to make over­book­ing an il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity. To do so would in­stantly re­quire a ma­jor in­crease in the cost of air­line seats. Over­book­ing is a sen­si­ble re­sponse to the ten­dency of many pas­sen­gers to not show up for a flight they’ve booked. And pe­nal­iz­ing the prac­tice would in­crease the cost of air­line seats by 20 per­cent or more. Since the re­verse auc­tion is such an ob­vi­ous re­sponse to over­book­ing prob­lems, I would en­cour­age you to think ahead when board­ing your next flight. Cal­cu­late a fig­ure ($1,000? $1,250? $1,500? $1,750?) that you would ac­cept in ex­change for giv­ing up your seat? There’s money to be made from over­book­ing!


A United Air­lines plane.

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