National Post

U.S. airlines alter overbookin­g practices

- Alana Wise Grant and Smith

• The backlash against the rough removal of a United Airlines passenger to make room on a crowded flight has opened a divide in the U.S. industry over how to manage flight overbookin­g, with some renouncing the practice and others offering richer incentives to give up seats.

Overbookin­g is likely to be on the agenda when members of Congress hold hearings on industry behaviour in coming weeks. The House Transporta­tion Committee has summoned United chief executive Oscar Munoz to testify at the hearing aimed at determinin­g “what can be done to improve the flying experience.”

United on Thursday increased its maximum incentive to US$10,000 for volunteers on overbooked flights. The Chicago- based carrier also said it aimed to reduce overbookin­g and decrease instances of involuntar­y denied boarding to “as close to zero as possible.”

United on T hursday agreed to a settlement, with undisclose­d t erms, with Dr. David Dao, 69, who was dragged down the aisle of a plane in Chicago on April 9.

Southwest Airlines said on Thursday it would no longer overbook flights. The company had the highest forced bumping rate among large U. S. carriers in 2016, according to Transporta­tion Department data.

Prior to the United incident, just one of the major U. S. carriers, JetBlue, had a policy explicitly stating it would not overbook flights.

Some l awmakers have called for new regulation­s. By taking voluntary steps, carriers could deflect harsher scrutiny.

Overall, U. S. airlines are relying less on bumping passengers from overbooked flights, even as they increase the share of occupied seats.

According to a Reuters analysis of Department of Transporta­tion data, the largest U. S. airlines have increased their domestic and internatio­nal load factor, which measures how many seats are occupied by passengers, to 84 per cent in 2016 from 80.8 per cent in 2010.

In the same period, carriers also decreased the rate of passengers denied boarding on overbooked flights by more than 42 per cent from 2010 to 2016.

Other airlines, i ncluding Delta Air Lines, did not renounce overbookin­g. But Delta i ncreased i ts maximum passenger incentive to US$9,950.

American Airlines, the world’s largest carrier, updated its conditions of carriage to state that it would not “remove a revenue passenger who has already boarded in order to give a seat to another passenger.”

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