Southwest Airlines Looks to End Overbooking

CEO Gary Kelly says this is something that has been in the works since before United's recent troubles.

Southwest
In the wake of United Airlines' bad month, Southwest will end its practice of overbooking in the near future.Southwest

It wasn't until a passenger named David Dao was dragged from a United Airlines aircraft that many travelers even knew what overbooking was, let alone felt outraged over it. But after the April 9 incident turned Dao into a viral video star and left him with two broken teeth and a concussion, the controversial practice that airlines use to save themselves from losing money on empty seats became the target of everyone from angry social media activists to politicians like Chris Christie and Chris Van Hollen.

Now, just as Dao has reached an "amicable settlement" with United, Southwest has announced that it will avoid its own overbooking problems by completely ending the process. According to the Associated Press, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly claimed that the airline had already been considering putting an end to overbooking, because of a reduction in the number of no-shows.

"The last thing we want to do is deny a customer their flight," Kelly said on First on CNBC while discussing his company's financial outlook. "We will cease to overbook going forward. We've been taking steps over the last several years to prepare ourselves for this anyway… it's something that we will be discontinuing very shortly."

Next month, Southwest will implement a new reservations system that will, in addition to better forecasting tools, allow the airline to avoid overbooking. Kelly noted that passengers may still be bumped in certain situations, but the result will result in far less “re-accommodations” than the 15,000 Southwest dealt with in 2016. That was the most of any airline.

Southwest's decision comes hot on the heels of United's implementation of new policies that will help the company avoid another Dao incident and especially the subsequent backlash. While United won't completely stop overbooking, it will offer up to $10,000 to passengers for voluntary re-accommodation. Additionally, United crew must check in one hour before flights, and no seated passengers can be bumped.