United Takes Steps to Reduce Involuntary “Bumping”

United takes steps to reduce involuntary “bumping”United Airline is taking a public relations beating this year…much of it self-inflicted. Now, after months of misfires and misreading public sentiment, the company appears to be trying to make moves in the right direction. Moves that some are calling “baby steps” … but at least they’re moving. Recently, the company began promising to “bump” fewer passengers off planes against their will. This was the policy that created a massive PR scandal after a doctor was dragged off a flight after refusing to give up a seat he paid for. The incident was captured on film, and rage erupted against the airline. Millions decried the treatment of Dr. David Dao, calling it unnecessary, brutal, and horrible.

Initially, United seemed poised to defend the actions of the security team that was upholding the airline’s policy. But, after the huge outcry, things appear to be changing, however slowly. According to recent media reports, involuntary bumping is down 85%, a statistic confirmed by United CEO Oscar Munoz in a recent call to investors. And, in addition to reducing how many passengers actually get bumped, United very publicly raised the amount of cash that can be offered to a person who is forced to give up their seat to $10,000. Another new idea is the pre-warning. If United sees that an overbooked flight will be too full, they will alert passengers before they board the plane to see if anyone would be willing to give up their seat … paid, of course.

The combination of the early indicator and the increased financial compensation has been dramatic. Compared to this time last year, bumping is down 85%, and customers appear much happier with the arrangement. All this, of course, begs one question: why does overbooking happen in the first place. And this is a key question that must be answered in United’s PR response to its earlier public relations crisis. There are two basic answers: one is logistical, the other is official.

In the first case, a flight may be too full because bookers assume a certain percentage of cancellations. With per-seat profit margins being what they are, losing multiple passengers to cancellations is something most airlines are not willing to accept. Therefore, like doctors’ offices, which also experience many cancellations, they tend to overbook. Sometimes, though, everyone expected does show up. And that necessitates a bump. The official reason has to do with air marshals and flight crews. If an air marshal needs a seat on a flight, or the airline needs to move a crew from one place to another on short notice, they need those seats … and that results in a bump.

These are reasons passengers may not be happy about … but more money and earlier warnings certainly blunt that unhappiness. And that, as with the lower bump rates, has United flying in the right direction.

About Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations. He is an experienced leader in the public relations industry with over 20 years of experience. Ronn Torossian has been named as Public Relations executive of the year by the American Business Awards, and has run countless award-winning Public Relations programs.

Ronn Torossian CEO

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and Chairman of 5WPR, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 25 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America’s most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company’s growth, overseeing more than 275 professionals. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named “PR Agency of the Year” by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world’s most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine’s Most Influential New Yorker, a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, and a recipient of Crain’s New York 2021 Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Torossian is known as one of the country’s foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and has authored two editions of his book, “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations,” which is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.

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