Two passengers were both hit with overbooked flights this weekend: One, as we all know too well now, was forcibly dragged off the plane, while the other was paid $11,000.
The same day as the dragging incident occurred on a United Airlines flight, turning into a PR nightmare as soon as videos of the altercation went viral, Forbespublished a travel writer’s account of how she made bank after her family of three was bumped from two Delta flights.
"It’s interesting how two different airlines handled the same situation," Laura Begley Bloom said in a phone call.
She scored $11,000 in gift cards and vouchers when her trip to visit in-laws in Florida with her husband and 4-year-old daughter last Friday didn’t go as planned. Meanwhile the man pulled off the United plane is preparing to sue.
Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Delta handled overbooked flights very differently than United.
After flight back-ups nationwide hit Delta especially hard, airline representatives started asking for volunteers to stay back on her family’s flight out of New York. About 60 passengers were on stand-by. Initially Bloom said she wasn’t going to give up her tickets. But she relented when her husband negotiated with a flight attendant to receive $1,350 per person in American Express gift cards (up from an initial $900).
Bloom snagged the offer and re-booked a flight for Saturday, heading back home (a paid hotel was offered but they were locals so didn’t need it). But when they returned the next day to the airport they found crowded, delayed flights yet again. So again they volunteered and again they received $3950 in American Express gift cards. Delta also gave them lunch vouchers and roundtrip taxi fare (that’s about $50 just for the ride).
But when the airline couldn’t find a flight to re-book them for the next day, the family offered to cancel their tickets altogether — and Delta paid them $1,000 each in gift cards and fully refunded them for the three tickets. Add that up and it’s a solid $11,000 in gift cards and vouchers to keep three people from taking up space on overbooked planes.
Meanwhile, an overbooked flight from Chicago to Louisville was having a hard time scrounging up volunteers to give up their seats that same weekend. Reportedly the airline offered anywhere between $800 to $1,000, but it wasn’t enough. So they resorted to randomly selecting passengers, which is when David Dao was told he had to get off the plane. When he refused, he was pulled out of his seat and left bloody as someone dragged him down the airplane aisle. We saw what happened from many different angles.
Through her experience, Bloom saw the volunteer system work — when the airline had a good enough offer.
"United handled it terribly," Bloom said. "At a certain point you got to have a little humanity."
Airlines have a lot of discretion and leeway on what they can offer passengers to convince them to volunteer their seats.
"They can sweeten the deal," Bloom said.
Instead, United ended up getting dragged on social media and in the press, losing out financially and getting threatened with a lawsuit. Seems like basic math: not worth it.