United Airlines could soon implement a pilot program in which passengers get the opportunity to give up their seat five days ahead of a full flight in exchange for a travel voucher.

“We are always looking at new ways to innovate and improve the customer experience, and this extremely small test is an example of one of many opportunities we are reviewing,” the carrier said in an email to Travel Weekly. “United has already taken steps to reduce overbooking, resulting in a nearly 90% year-over-year reduction of involuntary denied boardings for the month of June.”

A United spokesman emphasized that the program, which is tentatively being called United Flex Schedule, has not begun. A final decision on whether to move ahead with a trial is likely to be made in the next week or two.

If implemented, United Flex Schedule could prove beneficial both to the airline and to passengers. Under its auspices, passengers on full flights who have opted into the program would be sent an email as many as five days before they are to travel asking if they’d be willing to switch to another flight on the same day for a designated dollar amount. Payments would be made in the form of United vouchers, the spokesman said. Passengers wouldn’t be asked to switch to a flight on a different day. The maximum amount United would offer under the Flex Schedule program is yet to be determined, although $250 has been considered.

For passengers with leeway in their schedules, the program would provide a chance to earn a voucher for voluntarily surrendering a seat without the hassle of going to the airport. For United, the program could serve as a revenue-management alternative to overbooking aircraft. The airline would make the voucher offers for flights on which they are confident they can resell the surrendered seats at a premium close-in sales price. Business travelers would be the most likely customers to purchase the relinquished seats.

Bloomberg was first to report on the Flex Schedule program on Wednesday. Volantio, a tech company that touts itself as providing revenue and marketing solutions to the travel industry, is developing the program for United.

The United spokesman said that the airline has been working with Volantio on the project since the beginning of the year — well before United’s overbooking practices came under scrutiny as result of the forceful removal of ticketed passenger David Dao in April from a Chicago O’Hare-Louisville United Express flight.

By Robert Silk

Source: Travel Weekly