I’m not directly saying it is a bad policy, but United’s new warning system to protect passengers against full flights will lead to unreasonable expectations.
United Airlines Will Warn You If Your Flight Is Full
It all started with this tweet on Saturday:
— Ethan Weiss (@ethanjweiss) May 9, 2020
The picture of a packed flight from Newark to San Francisco went viral, with many “condemning” United for operating full flights during COVID-19.
Rather than defend its right to survive and note that no is forcing passengers to fly, United has responded with an acknowledgment that some flights are filling up again…and a new policy.
“Because our schedule is so reduced, there are a small number of flights where our customers are finding planes fuller than they expect.”
More than 85% of flights remain less than half full, so this still represents a small proportion of total flights.
But for those flights that are projected to be at least 70% full, United will notify passengers a day before, allowing them to rebook on another flight or receive future travel credit if they are uncomfortable with the full loads.
Notices will go out via email 24 hours before the flight starting next week. Passengers will also have the choice to rebook at the gate if the flight fills up more than expected.
This Fuels An Unrealistic Expectation
I’m not going to attack United for this move, even though I don’t think it is a wise policy. Certainly, it is a way to shut down critics on a short-term basis. But this capitulation to “Nervous Nellie” flyers is dangerous in that it lays the groundwork for a sense of entitlement over extra spacing onboard airplanes.
I’ve already examined why social distancing on an airplane is nothing more than oxymoron. That remains the case: extra spacing is nothing more than a psychological crutch.
The problem for United is passengers will come to expect this, which is simply incompatible with United’s long-term rebound strategy to begin filling up planes to the brim again once the economy re-opens. And this is hardly a concern unique to United; airlines around the world must grapple with the reality that high loads are necessary for profit. The idea that planes should not be more than 70% full is dangerous to the future of commercial aviation.
On the one hand, this is a far better move than tricking passengers into thinking middle seats will remain open. On the other hand, this may create unreasonable expectations in the future. For now, though, expect a warning if your United flight is looking full and flexility to get off it, if you so desire.
image: @ethanjweiss / Twitter