I’ve gotta give United Airlines credit for this one… well played.
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Airlines & social distancing
Airlines have been doing an awful job when it comes to managing expectations regarding how full flights will be. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about United Airlines’ social distancing sham.
United Airlines claimed that they’d be blocking all middle seats, though in reality that just meant they were blocking middle seats from being assigned in advance, while they’ll always sell flights to capacity.
A policy like that is doing no one a favor. It just means that a lot more people will be assigned seats at the gate rather than in advance.
United’s policy was misleading, with the goal of reassuring passengers in order to sell tickets, rather than actually trying to make passengers feel safe onboard. Obviously many people believed the airline would be keeping middle seats empty, and were angry when they boarded a flight and found that wasn’t the case.
One such case went viral just a few days ago…
— Ben Schlappig (@OneMileataTime) May 10, 2020
Passengers also aren’t realistic
There are two problems here — many airlines are doing a terrible job managing expectations, and some passengers also have unrealistic expectations to begin with. I wrote in the past about the increasing amount of “full flight” outrage we’re seeing. The way this works:
- People take flights, most of which were probably cheap, since airfare is very low right now
- These are generally people who don’t actually need to be on planes (they could either just stay home or drive) and are outraged to find that other people are doing the same
- Passengers claim that they feel extremely unsafe, and seem to think that their fare entitles them to a private jet
- They’re also outraged that there’s no “social distancing,” even though proper social distancing on a plane is an oxymoron
United Airlines’ new social distancing policy
United got a lot of flak for the above situation, and the airline is now addressing that. Not by actually blocking seats on flights, but rather by communicating with passengers when flights will be full.
Going forward, United Airlines will let passengers decide if they care about social distancing or not by at least being transparent:
- Starting next week and through June 30, 2020, United Airlines will inform passengers if their flight is projected to be more than 70% full
- If that’s the case, passengers will be allowed to rebook on a different flight or receive a future travel credit
- The airline will contact passengers about 24 hours before departure so they can decide whether they want to adjust plans; the airline will also offer this opportunity at the gate, if more than 70% of customers have checked in
- United claims that while demand has dropped drastically, the airline has also reduced the schedule by 90%; 85% of flights are less than half full, but of course that still leaves some flights being full
I think United Airlines is taking a good approach here. No, the airline won’t be keeping middle seats empty on flights, but at least will inform passengers when flights are expected to be full.
Previously the airline tried to deceive people into thinking that they blocked middle seats. I think it makes a lot more sense to let people know in advance their flight will be full and let them make a decision as to whether or not they want to fly, rather than leading them to believe a flight will be empty, only for that to not be the case.
Passengers will have a lot less right to complain if they know in advance a flight will be full, but still choose to take it.
Personally I still think Frontier had the right idea by trying to sell empty middle seats, but they got backlash for that as well, so…
What do you make of United Airlines’ new policy?