| NEW YORK, April 28
NEW YORK, April 28 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 behavior 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
$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
United on Thursday agreed to a settlement, with undisclosed
terms, 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 lawmakers have called for new airline regulations. By
taking voluntary steps, carriers could deflect harsher scrutiny,
as automakers have done in the past when confronted with safety
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 actually occupied by passengers, to 84 percent in
2016 from 80.8 percent in 2010.
In the same period, carriers also decreased the rate of
passengers denied boarding on overbooked flights by more than 42
percent from 2010 to 2016.
Other airlines, including Delta Air Lines, did not
renounce overbooking. But Delta increased its maximum passenger
incentive to $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." The company has not announced
other changes to its sales practices.
In a post-earnings call after the United incident, Delta
Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian defended the company's policy
on overselling flights, arguing that implementation, not the
practice itself, was the problem.
"Overbooking is a valid business process," Bastian said.
"It's not a question, in my opinion, as to whether you overbook;
it's how you manage an overbook situation."
(Reporting by Alana Wise and Grant Smith; Editing by Richard