Delta Air Lines and voluntary denied boarding aka “The Bump”

Last week, I raked in some nice compensation from United Airlines in the form of travel credits by volunteering my seat. Overselling flights has long been a common practice in the airline industry, and the airlines come out the winners much more often than the losers.

Having worked in the department that handles this optimization, I can tell you that generally all flights have authorization levels above capacity for the coach cabin. Sometimes even business and first class, too. The sophisticated inventory and revenue management systems are monitored and adjusted by flight analysts with consideration given to an enormous amount of factors. That said, however, it is not a perfect science and scenarios develop which can throw the best forecasts out the window.

United’s current policy for a VDB is a standard $400 travel credit good for use anywhere United flies, plus re-accommodation on the next available flight and hotels & meals if that isn’t until the following day. I like that amount… it’s sufficient enough, it’s published, and it doesn’t feel like the airline is trying to milk you for anything more.

Enter Delta Air Lines. This week Marginal Revolution posted a screenshot displaying Delta’s new volunteer process. It is asking the passenger to enter the minimum dollar value they would be willing to accept to volunteer their seat. Another blog accurately describes this as going “eBay” by creating an auction format where the lowest bidder(s) win. From an airline standpoint this is actually brilliant, but I personally hate it. I don’t think the average leisure traveler would even think to go as high as $400, so this would worry me if more carriers processed VDBs in this manner. I can also envision ill-will created if poorly executed at the gate, whereby Passenger A hears Passenger B getting their $300 travel credits, but Passenger A only entered $100. The agent would of course explain to Passenger A that $100 was the amount they said they would accept, but tell me that wouldn’t bother you if you just heard someone else getting $300!

United will be busy this year integrating systems with Continental, so I don’t think I’ll see this when flying my preferred carrier anytime soon. My fingers are crossed for never!

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