United Airlines opened up an investigation after discovering illegal activity among its employees regarding travel perks. The airline fired more than 35 employees after discovering a brokering scheme for selling their staff travel perks to outside users. One incident triggered the investigation which ultimately led to the downfall of the system.
Travel Perks Investigation
A recent flight on United Airlines raised a red flag for staff which signaled that some illegal activity might be occurring with the company’s internal operations. United Airlines published an article through its internal communications detailing the incident (article obtained by USA Today).
The article states, “The three families, who were traveling internationally, stated that they had ‘paid for’ first class tickets – but they were on non-revenue reservations and were unable to provide the names of the employees who had provided the tickets.”
United Airlines travel perks allow employees to share travel passes with family and friends only. The travel passes can be used to get free or significantly discounted rates on flights with the airline, including flying internationally. Even first-class upgrades cost a fraction of what the general public would pay. It’s unusual to have so many passengers using the privilege at once which is why the employees at the gate were alarmed.
The incident triggered an investigation where the company found that illegal activity was taking place. More than 35 employees were fired due to their involvement in the scheme.
How It Worked
United Airlines hasn’t disclosed how long they think the travel perks scheme has been going on or even if the 35 employees who were fired means the end of the scheme. Up until this point, United Airlines figured out how to cheat the system and generate extra income for their own pockets.
Since the travel perks are only shareable with friends and family, employees can input names into United’s system to allow them exclusive access to the employee portal for using the perks. They saw it as an opportunity to make money, especially for employees whose perks often went unused. Employees began to solicit travel privileges from other employees and turn around and sell them to other people outside of United. Sometimes employees who gave up their privileges were paid a portion of the profits, while others were tricked into giving up their privileges by being told that it was for a relative or close friend.
Anyone using the travel perks has to be identified by the company’s internal system for verification. To show that the traveler is “family or friend,” employees began to use fake documentation to name them as stepparents or domestic partners.
United Airlines’ Response
United Airlines wants to ensure that the travel perks are used appropriately by all of their staff to maintain the value of having a relative working with the airline. The published article outlines the details about the travel passes for employees who may be unaware that some activity could be illegal with it.
Some of the employees fired in the incident claimed that they didn’t know that selling their perks were illegal. United Airlines mentions that the only compensation you can receive from the passes is reimbursement from taxes, fees, and imputed income from travel. The selling or trading of travel privileges is strictly illegal.
How do you think United Airlines could prevent this in the future?