In the aftermath of the David Dao dragging incident in April, several airlines revamped their policies around paying denied boarding compensation. In September Delta paid out $4000 in travel credit to a woman flying to South Bend, Indiana for a Georgia Bulldogs – Notre Dame game. She still made it in the night before the game.
On December 19th American Airlines flight AA150 from Chicago O’Hare to Paris went mechanical just prior to boarding. Instead of cancelling or delaying the flight to the next day, they swapped out the planned Boeing 787-9 with 285 seats for a Boeing 787-8 which has just 226 seats.
With 59 fewer seats on the aircraft they were paying out voluntary denied boarding compensation.
The plane went from 30 business class seats down to 28. It went from 21 premium economy seats to an aircraft without premium economy. It gained 19 Main Cabin Extra seats, and lost 55 in regular economy.
American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Economy
In the old days they might offer travel credit up to $800 looking for volunteers, and anyone they had to bump could be paid out as an involuntary denied boarding. In fact the DOT’s $1350 required involuntary denied boarding compensation (in the form of a check) wouldn’t even apply because the airline substituted a smaller plane on the flight. Government rules don’t require compensation in that circumstance (or when the airline simply cancels the flight).
Shortly after the David Dao incident American adopted a rule that they “will not involuntarily remove a revenue passenger who has already boarded in order to give a seat to another passenger.” They also began allowing customers to list as a volunteer to give up a seat even without already having a seat assignment as long as they were confirmed on the flight.
American’s Day of Departure Desk will also authorize substantially more compensation than before. And that appears to have happened in this instance.
American Airlines Boeing 787-8
I’ve been told that customers received $5000 in travel vouchers plus a hotel night and a seat on another flight. Indeed I’ve also been told that there was a family of six which walked away with $30,000 in vouchers. And that more than 50 passengers received compensation. 50 passengers receiving $5000 each would be $250,000 in travel credit issued for a single flight.
I asked American to confirm the amounts and spokesman Ross Feinstein declined “to get into specific voluntary compensation numbers” however he didn’t waive me off the numbers either.
He shared that no passengers were involuntarily denied boarding and that passengers receiving voluntary denied boardings either took a connecting flight later the same night or the same flight the next day. And he adds,
Our team – both in Chicago and Fort Worth – did a wonderful job of taking care of our customers during a difficult and last minute downgrade situation.
Regardless of the exact amounts, if $5000 for instance was limited to premium economy and business customers, I didn’t see any complaints about how this flight was handled. At all. And the flight was only delayed in arrival an hour and 13 minutes.
I haven’t heard what happened to passengers on the return Paris – Chicago flight, if it became oversold due to the smaller 787-8 aircraft that was sent over or not. However it was certainly better that American sent the smaller plane than no plane at all, cancelling Chicago to Paris would have meant cancelling a Paris departure as well.