We've all seen the chaos that ensues when airlines scramble to bump enough passengers from an overbooked flight. A flustered gate agent starts the bidding low, raising the amount of a travel voucher until enough passengers run to the desk to grab a voucher and get a new boarding pass so the plane an take off.
It's not exactly pretty. The answer, it seems, lies with smartphone apps.
American Airlines recently updated its app last week to solicit volunteers to be bumped, The Points Guy reported. Passengers on oversold American flights will get a prompt that the airline is looking volunteers, allowing them to enter a bid for how much they'd accept to get bumped from the flight.
United Airlines, meanwhile, has had this feature for a few months. What's more, United allows travelers to pick between a cash voucher and United MileagePlus miles as compensation for being bumped.
United flight is oversold. The the app didn't push an alert but did prompt me when I opened it myself. Interesting that there's both a miles and voucher option.
Always take the dollars! pic.twitter.com/MbLy6LvrXZ
— Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer) May 5, 2019
Thrifty Tip: As Jason Rabinowitz notes, always take the cash over the miles when offered. The cash is worth far more than the miles.
Delta, meanwhile, has been trying to solicit volunteers during online check-in for years. But we haven't yet seen the airline roll out this feature to its app yet.
Overbooked flights are an unfortunate reality of modern travel. But airlines have taken pains to avoid drama when bumping passengers since 2017, after a bumped passenger who wouldn’t leave his seat on a United flight in 2017 was bloodied and forcibly pulled from the plane.
Most airlines increased how much they’ll offer passengers on oversold flights in an effort to get more volunteers, rather than resort to involuntarily denying boarding. And these in-app offers seem to be the newest approach.
For passengers, it's a mixed bag. On one hand, it helps streamline the entire bumping process and should help speed it up by giving airlines a list of passengers willing to take a later flight – as well as their price to do so.
But it could also mean that the size of vouchers that airlines give out shrinks. Airlines are clear that the lowest bidders will be the first to go. And by requesting volunteers in advance – rather than at the gate – the price to get bumped likely goes down.
So in that sense, it's a win for airlines. They're reducing their costs and making the process smoother.
Watch for these in-app solicitations on your next flight. These kinds of offers will only become more prevalent.