THE INC. LIFE

United Just Decided It’s Going To Try And Sell Your Seat To Someone Else (Yes, For A Profit)

Is it all bad news? You decide.

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BY Chris Matyszczyk - 13 Jul 2017

And suddenly, some of the seats on board cost thousands. Yes, in coach.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

 

You've booked your ticket.

You've paid extra to have a seat with an extra millimeter of legroom.

You're even looking forward to the trip.

But you still have that nagging fear that, if the flight is overbooked, there might be pressure to kick you off.

Oh, and you're flying United, so you never know how things might turn out.

And then, five days before your trip, the airline emails you.

Its cheery note says: "Hey, we'll give you $300 if you give up your seat." Well, $300 in travel vouchers, which is almost like money.

This is a new idea that, so Bloomberg reports, United is quietly creeping into its offerings.

It's called the Flex-Schedule Program. And it's United's new way to (hopefully) prevent bumping passengers at the airport and causing ugly scenes.

The principle is simple.

If the airline senses a flight is going to be overbooked, it contacts those who have already signed up to indicate their schedule may be flexible.

So far, it's limited to those who booked on United's own website and those who signed up to receive the airline's exciting emails and promotional offers.

United promises that it won't mess with your itinerary too much. Nor will it mess with your comfort level. Your indicated seat preferences will carry over.

How does this all benefit you? Well, you might get a little travel voucher in exchange for changing your journey a little in a way that doesn't bother you at all.

How does this benefit the airline? Just imagine how much it can resell your ticket for.

It's little different from concert tickets. The nearer the date of the concert, tickets can change hands for multiples of the original price.

United is gambling that you'll be satisfied with a voucher for not very much, while at the same time selling your seat for a potentially exorbitant price.

The life-addled might wonder whether this new little scheme will actually encourage United to overbook even more.

After all, it's just a case of supply and demand, right? And think of the potential profits.

However, Dave Bartels, United's vice president for pricing and revenue management, told Bloomberg that this was simply all about offering a seat to a customer who needs it more.

Then he conceded: "It won't mean we're overbooking the aircraft more because we have this tool. But I also don't know why it would lead to less overbooking."

I don't either.

Of course, just because you've signed up to listen to offers doesn't mean you're going to accept them.

Passengers are gamblers too. They'll be wondering how much higher the airline might go to secure their seat.

I wonder, too, whether there will be speculators -- just as there are with concerts -- who will buy up tickets on flights that they think might get overbooked and then sit on them to see if they can make a profit.

The Flex-Schedule Program is currently in its testing phase. I wonder if it will have a bumpy ride.