Change Your Altitude

Southwest Says No To Overbooking: But Will It Stick/Catch On With Others? (Probably Not)

Hey, you might have heard that there was an…’incident’ on a United flight a few weeks back that involved an overbooking situation, a “must fly crew” situation and a forcible removal situation. Three situations that don’t bode well with most passengers.

Well United has spoken, and has promised to better empower their ground staff and up their compensation payment should this unfortunate situation occur once again.

Other airlines have also stepped up, Delta amongst others have also not only clarified their own policies but also upgraded their own offerings so that the horrific footage of a United passenger being forcibly (and literally) dragged off a flight would never happen on their own aircraft.

Well Southwest has stepped in and put in their own stake on the situation, and let’s just say it takes much more of a initiative and proactive approach to the issue.

 The Scoop:

So let’s just put it out there: Southwest is the worst offender in this regard – in absolute numbers. They do offload the most amount of passengers per year, and this became apparent after the United debacle. But that’s also probably because Southwest is the biggest domestic US carrier in terms of passengers carried on a yearly basis. So it’s understandable.

The airline has looked at the numbers and has made the remarkable step to join fellow (ironically) lost cost carrier JetBlue in announcing that they intend to abolish the practice outright.

Unlike Delta and United, who have both said they will keep their existing overbooking policies but up their compensation to up to $10,000 (this will be a very rare occurrence, most likely on a fully paid international First or Business Class ticket) which to be honest is really putting lipstick on a pig, Southwest is actually taking tangible action.

The airline’s CEO, Gary Kelly, has announced that the airline will no longer purposefully oversell flights starting “very soon” – basically as soon as they can figure out the algorithm on their booking system to do so.

Now it’s important to note that this doesn’t  mean that all Southwest flights won’t be overbooked – there will be operational challenges and people still might still have to be enticed to get off an overbooked flight.

But the important distinction here is that the airline will no longer practice purposeful overbooking, nor will they knowingly board a flight that has more passengers than seats. The only time they will have to bump passengers will be due to crew boarding the flight on “must fly” conditions due to unforeseen circumstances such as weather or operational delays.

The interior of a Southwest 737-800 with their new branding. The airline has joined JetBlue in deciding to abolish any overbooking, a move that has been welcomed by many passengers. Image credit: Southwest Media


The Takeaway:

Well this is a great move by Southwest and shows how these ‘so called’ low cost carriers, such as Southwest and JetBlue (for years) have had their pulse on the industry and (now) refuse to overbook.

Whereas industry bigwigs such as Delta and United (American is suspiciously silent – no comment) have committed to upping compensation to a level that no one will ever actually receive for no other reason other than PR purposes basically refuse to address the issue.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian went as far as to say that overbooking was a legitimate practice – to what extent would depend on the route he added. We’re guessing that there’s some real profiling there on that respect.

This is a great move by Southwestwhile still publicly acknowledging that people will still be bumped off flights in potential difficult operational situations, they make a massive move in being open in their communications with the public. Basically the airline is making clear that they no longer will be purposefully overbooking flights, but still reserve the right to boot you off if they are in ‘last resort’ territory, which I feel is fair as its part of your contract of carriage terms and conditions to be honest.

99% of this is how you handle the situation at hand more than what you’re technically – technically – allowed to (at which United failed on with epic proportions) – to which end Southwest is and will be heralded with plaudits. As they usually are. Let’s be honest, we can see through the plaster thin overtures that UA and DL have made with their $10K offers that will never see the light of day with the 1,000 lines of ‘buts and ifs’ – but that doesn’t matter so long as CNN reports that they’ve some something, right?

Well Southwest has actually done something, and it’s actually a tangibly good thing. Thank you for reminding the traveling public why we LUV you.

Don’t every change Southwest – you do you.

Featured image credit: Southwest Media

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