United Alters Rebooking Policy Following Distancing Backlash

Over the weekend, United Airlines came under fire for operating a flight from New York to San Francisco full of passengers. Travelers became concerned about the Chicago-based carrier’s approach to social distancing. However, from next week, the company will allow its customers to rebook if flights are expected to be close to full capacity.

United Airlines Denver
United is making another revision to its rebooking policy. Photo: Getty Images

Initial concerns

An image shared by a doctor named Ethan Weiss went viral. The photo showed that the flight was packed with passengers. United justified the busy aircraft by stating that an additional 25 medical professionals were flying for free. These workers were volunteering in New York to help fight the coronavirus outbreak.

Nonetheless, Weiss had received an email from United before boarding. The message said that the operator is automatically blocking middle seats to allow for enough space onboard

United 737 MAX Lie Flat
United is facing a series of tough challenges this year. Photo: Getty Images

Taking action

Following these events, United clarified that even though it has reduced its schedule by 90 percent, 85 percent of flights are less than half fullHowever, the New York Post reports that because the schedule is so reduced, there are a small number of services where customers are finding planes fuller than they expect.

Now, to increase transparency, the firm will be more precise about its capacity and give passengers more choice.

A spokesperson told Simple Flying the following:

“In an effort to be as transparent as possible with our customers and give them more control over their travel plans, starting next week and continuing through June 30, we’ll allow customers on flights that are expected to be closer to full capacity to choose to rebook on a different flight or receive a travel credit.”

United airlines aircraft parked
Most of the airline’s aircraft remain on the ground. Photo: Getty Images

Better communication

To make it easier for customers to plan, the airline will do its best to contact them approximately 24 hours before their departure time. Therefore, they can decide whether to adjust their itinerary before they arrive at the airport. The airline will also provide this option at the gate if more than 70 percent of passengers have checked in.

Once more cities and states begin to open up, United expects that more people will choose to fly. With this in mind, the carrier is focusing on overhauling its hygiene measures.

Some of these initiatives are as follows:

  • Enhanced cabin sanitization, using electrostatic sprayers.
  • The mandatory use of face masks for passengers and flight attendants, which are being given out for free.
  • The minimizing of touchpoints by changing current food processes and the temporary removal of inflight items.
  • State-of-the-art circulation systems that remove up to 99.7% of airborne particles.
  • Sneeze guards at key interaction points at airports.

Altogether, with airlines having to find a balance on their services amid the global health crisis, United’s revised approach is a positive move. Several passengers are already reluctant to fly in the current climate. Therefore, if they can have comfort knowing that robust measures are in place, they will be more willing to hit the air.

What are your thoughts on United’s stance? Will this make you feel more comfortable to fly amid the current climate? Let us know what you think of the situation in the comment section.