United to notify passengers of crowded flights, offer free changes

May 12, 2020

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Monday afternoon, I detailed United’s confusing policy of “blocking middle seats”.  Essentially, middle seats are not available for passengers to pre-select, but, since the airline isn’t capping ticket sales, they may be assigned at the gate on relatively full flights, if necessary.

Now, United has announced a new policy that’ll empower phone representatives, gate agents and customers to avoid a potentially uncomfortable scenario in which passengers board a plane to find an entirely full flight.

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As United explains:

Travel demand has declined dramatically over the last few months and even though we have reduced our schedule by 90%, the vast majority of our flights (85 percent) are less than half full. However, because our schedule is so reduced, there are a small number of flights where our customers are finding planes fuller than they expect. In an effort to be as transparent as possible with our customers and give them more control over their travel plans, starting next week and continuing through June 30, we’ll allow customers on flights that are expected to be closer to full capacity to choose to rebook on a different flight or receive a travel credit.

More: These are the only long-haul routes American, Delta and United plan to fly in May

Ultimately, it shouldn’t cost the airline much to move passengers to new flights, aside from a few minutes of work for a phone or gate agent. Passengers will get the option of selecting a flight where they’ll be a bit more comfortable.

As for how the new program will work, United says:

To make it easier for our customers to plan, we’ll do our best to contact them about 24 hours before their departure time so they can decide whether to adjust their plans before they arrive at the airport – and we’ll provide this option at the gate, if more than 70% of customers have checked in.

With more than 70% of customers checked in, gate agents would have no choice but to begin assigning middle seats — hopefully this added flexibility will enable them to avoid putting passengers in an uncomfortable position, while limiting the financial impact for the airline.

More: United Airlines CEO warns of a smaller carrier post-coronavirus

Featured photo of a pre-coronavirus United 787-10 flight by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

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