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27th Apr 2017

United Airlines announce huge increase in customer compensation amongst a series of policy changes

Conor Heneghan

United Airlines

Pardon the pun, but it’s been quite a turbulent month for United Airlines.

United Airlines has announced a series of changes to its customer service policy following a whirlwind of negative publicity in the wake of the forcible removal of a passenger, David Dao, from a United Airlines plane earlier this month.

Dao, 69, has filed court papers and is expected to receive significant compensation after he was removed from United Express Flight 3411 on April 9, suffering a series of injuries in the process.

An already bad month for United was made worse on Wednesday, meanwhile, when it emerged that a rabbit on track to become the biggest rabbit in the world died in the cargo section of a United Airlines flight while en route from London to Chicago.

In a statement released on Thursday in relation to the removal of Dao from the flight, United said that it disappointed its customers and that “we can never say we are sorry enough for what occurred, but we also know meaningful actions will speak louder than words”.

As a result, United has announced 10 substantial changes to how it flies, serves and respects its customers, including a huge increase in compensation for voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000 (passengers were reportedly offered a maximum of $800 to voluntarily give up their seat earlier this month).

United passengers will now no longer be required to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk and the airline will ensure that crews are booked onto a flight at least 60 minutes prior to the departure.

You can see the policy changes – some of which will be implemented immediately and others will be designed and implemented throughout 2017 – in full below.

  • Limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only.
  • Not require customers seated on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk.
  • Increase customer compensation incentives for voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000.
  • Establish a customer solutions team to provide agents with creative solutions such as using nearby airports, other airlines or ground transportations to get customers to their final destination.
  • Ensure crews are booked onto a flight at least 60 minutes prior to departure.
  • Provide employees with additional annual training.
  • Create an automated system for soliciting volunteers to change travel plans.
  • Empower employees to resolve customer service issues in the moment.
  • Reduce the amount of overbooking.
  • Eliminate the red tape on permanently lost bags by adopting a “no questions asked” policy on lost luggage. In these instances, United will pay a customer $1,500 for the value of the bag and its contents.

Commenting on the policy changes, Oscar Munoz, United CEO said: “Every customer deserves to be treated with the highest levels of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect. Two weeks ago, we failed to meet that standard and we profoundly apologise.

“However, actions speak louder than words. Today, we are taking concrete, meaningful action to make things right and ensure nothing like this ever happens again.

“Our review shows that many things went wrong that day, but the headline is clear: our policies got in the way of our values and procedures interfered in doing what’s right.

“This is a turning point for all of us at United and it signals a culture shift toward becoming a better, more customer-focused airline.  Our customers should be at the centre of everything we do and these changes are just the beginning of how we will earn back their trust.”

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