468x60 General & Logo

United may take the bump out of the airline grind

United Airlines has quietly unveiled technology that it will use to manage the problem of oversold flights — and, in the same breath, turn them into a profit opportunity. With the help of its Flex-Schedule Program, the airline is trying to buck the trend of involuntary bumping — kicking passengers off oversold flights — without necessarily offering four-figure payouts to passengers at the gate, or curbing their practice of overselling inventory. The airline suffered a publicity black eye this year when police dragged a man off an overbooked plane, and has since promised to offer high-price rewards to fliers who agree to change flights at the last minute. In partnership with Volantio, an aviation technology startup in Atlanta, United will soon begin sending email newsletters with subject lines such as “Are You Flexible with Your Travels to Los Angeles?” Inside, travelers will have the option to sign up for potential rewards — so long as they’re willing to budge a little on their itineraries. Only those who book on United.com and opt in to receive marketing messages will be eligible for the offer — and signing up doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be asked to change your flight. If it’s looking like your seat has turned into a hot commodity, though, you’ll be offered the chance to tweak your itinerary in exchange for a travel voucher up to $250. [...] tweak is the key word: Azim Barodawala, the CEO of Volantio who created the technology and brought it to United, said the flex program could change circumstances with the help of innovation rather than regulations. It’s a way for airlines to create revenue without relying on ancillary fees — an annoying tactic that has dominated the aviation business in recent years. If there’s a way to entice fliers to rebook prematurely on oversold or problematic flights, gate agents and customer service staff stand to see their stress levels go down, too. [...] leisure travelers — who can now accept vouchers from home, without rushing to the airport and clearing security first — come up winners as well. [...] he’ll reach out by email to a handful of opted-in passengers — the pilot program will target a limited group of MileagePlus members — offering them seats on the less-desirable 3 p.m. or 8 p.m. departures. The same goes for passengers at risk of missing a connection due to disruptions: “The airline could offer your seat to someone whose priority is getting there faster, and you could take their seat on a later flight that you’ll actually make.”

Article by By Nikki Ekstein (c) Business and Technology News - Read full story here.