Dear United: It Didn’t Have To Be This Way

Last summer I had a Delta flight out of La Guardia bound for Detroit. It was a Saturday morning and the airport was swarming with passengers, the gate area for my flight was like a mosh pit. As we approached the time to board, a gate agent announced that the flight was oversold by seven passengers. An audible groan rippled through the waiting area as we all clutched our boarding passes and jockeyed further for position in the boarding process. This was not going to be easy.

The Delta / traveler negotiation process began when the agent offered the usual $400 travel voucher for anyone willing to take a later flight. In a delightful New York accent, a lady standing beside me smirked, “They’ll pay more.” Sure enough, moments later the announcement came that a $500 voucher was now available to any travelers with flexible travel plans. I smiled as I acknowledged the prophetic power of my fellow traveler. As my plans did not feel flexible, I gratefully made my way onto the plane.

After the plane was fully loaded, with the last few passengers jamming bags into the overhead bins, a voice rang out over the airplane announcement system that Delta still needed one more passenger to give up their seat. This time, however, they had upped the ante. For one more traveler willing to give up their seat on this flight, the offer was now $1,300!

Before the announcer had released the button on her microphone, a loud whoop rang out from the bulkhead row of the economy cabin. A young woman jumped from her seat and in one smooth motion grabbed her duffle bag from the overhead bin and bolted off the plane, howling with delight the entire way back up the jetway. A chorus of applause and laughter broke out in the cabin as we all celebrated this woman’s quick decision-making and resulting good fortune. We were all happy for her.

In light of United’s fiasco last week I can’t help but imagine how things could have turned out differently for them. How much cheaper it would have been for them to simply buy their way out of their oversold situation. The cost of a few travel vouchers — even at a few thousand dollars a piece — would pale in the face of the damage done to their reputation and their brand. Not to mention, the inevitable law suits. As United likes to say in their safety announcements, we all have a choice when we fly. Guess what my preferred airline is?

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