United Updates Crew Travel Policies So Passengers Won’t Be Booted Off Flights

Image courtesy of Audra Bridges

It’s been a week since United Airlines made headlines for having a ticketed passenger bodily hauled off his flight so airline crew could have his seat, and the company is still in full damage control mode. United’s latest promise is that it has changed its policy so that last-minute staff travel arrangements won’t bump paying customers anymore.

Here’s a quick recap of the story so far: On April 9, United asked for volunteers to be bumped off a flight from Chicago to Louisville so that airline crew members could catch the flight. Nobody took the $800 on offer, so the airline “randomly selected” some “volunteers” who would be told to leave the plane they had already boarded.

The first two grudgingly went, but the third refused. That’s when it got ugly: Several fellow travelers took — and shared — video of passenger Dr. David Dao being hauled out of his seat and dragged off the plane by police, which quickly went viral.

The airline’s first few attempts at an apology were widely met with derision, as company CEO Oscar Munoz used corporate-speak to discuss “re-accommodating” the passenger and calling him “disruptive and belligerent” before finally actually saying, “I deeply apologize” and kicking off an apology tour with his fourth statement.

Since then, the airline has said it won’t use law enforcement to drag people off flights anymore, and has also promised some kind of compensation for every passenger who was on that April 9 flight.

Now, United has emailed all of its staff to change its policy on crew travel. Formerly, members of the airline staff who needed to shuffle around the country for work could nab seats on basically any flight at any time. Now, they have to have their travel arranged at least an hour in advance or they’re not going.

United announced that policy to employees in a memo first published by TMZ and later verified by several other media outlets.

“Effective immediately, Crew Scheduling is now only able to make must-ride deadhead [non-paying passenger] bookings on oversold flights if it is 60 minutes or more before the estimated time of departure,” the memo reads.

“There will be no deviation from the policy above. No must-ride crew member can displace a customer who has boarded an aircraft.”

A spokesperson for the airline told the New York Times that the policy change was meant to help guarantee that incidents like last week’s “never happen again.”

It may, however, be too little, too late.

Morning Consult ran a survey to attempt to measure just how ticked off the traveling public is at United. The answer — “very” — is perhaps not surprising.

Morning Consult surveyed potential travelers who had heard about United ‘s recent news and also some who hadn’t, and then they compared their answers about two hypothetical, identical flights. One was from United and one from American, at the same time, for the same cost, traveling the same route. The question was pretty simple: Which flight would you take?

Among travelers who had not heard about United’s recent news, about half would select to travel on either airline — a coin toss, as it were.

However, among travelers who had been following the news about United, only 21% would select the United flight. The hypothetical American flight would have to both cost more and have an extra layover before more than half of passengers who followed the news would cave and fly United… and even then, 44% of respondents would still take the American Airlines flight instead.

In the meantime, Dr. Dao’s lawyer confirmed that he will “probably” sue the airline, after suffering a concussion, two broken teeth, and other injuries.