United ‘Quietly’ Intros New Overbooking Policy
Say “United,” and the instant mental image is of a bloodied passenger being dragged off of a flight. The airline met that brand crisis with a statement the public greeted with ire. So that may be why United is “quietly” rolling out a new program to deal with overbooking — the practice of selling more seats than a plane actually houses, which is the stated reason the bloodied passenger was dragged down an aisle.
It’s unclear if being less than transparent is a good brand move, but that will soon be clear — as on Thursday, the Chicago Tribune reported that United had been testing the new overbooking program for a week. In “United Quietly Unveils 'Flex-Schedule' Program for Overbooked Flights,” Nikki Ekstein of Bloomberg also writes:
In partnership with Volantio, a third-party aviation technology startup based in Atlanta, United will soon begin sending email newsletters with subject lines such as "Are You Flexible with Your Travels to Los Angeles?" Inside, travelers will have the option to sign up for potential rewards-so long as they're willing to budge a little on their flight itineraries.
Only those who book on United.com and opt in to receive marketing messages will be eligible for the sign-up offer — and signing up doesn't guarantee that you'll be asked to change your flight.
The article notes that this move may save United a lot of money. Right now, the airline is offering passengers up to four-figure rewards for relinquishing paid seats. It also points out that overbooking flights is a profitable strategy that United officials still find attractive.
And United isn’t alone. Ekstein reports that Volantio signed up Australia-based Tiger Airways, Alaska Air and Qantas. But a United official told the journalist that permanent implementation isn’t a sure thing and he wouldn’t classify the tech as having a lot to do with overbooking.
The article quotes Dave Bartels, VP for pricing and revenue management at United:
"We want to see the volunteer rate, the percentage of people that indicate a willingness, and then the conversion rate upon the offers being sent."
What do you think, marketers?
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Related story: United Bullies a Passenger, Bloodies Its Brand