United will begin notifying customers 24 hours ahead of time
if their flight is going to be crowded. Customers will then have the option of
rebooking or receiving a travel credit.
The policy will last through June 30.
The move, to go into effect next week, comes after a Twitter
image of a packed United 737 drew national headlines. The tweet was posted
Saturday by Ethan Weiss, a doctor flying home to San Francisco with a group of
physicians and nurses who had been working for the past few weeks in New York
“This is the last time I’ll be flying again for a very long
time,” Weiss wrote.
In a statement on its website, United explained that despite
a 90% reduction in its schedule, 85% of its flights are still less than half
full. However, a small number of flights are more crowded.
“To make it easier for our customers to plan, we’ll do our
best to contact them about 24 hours before their departure time so they can
decide whether to adjust their plans before they arrive at the airport -- and
we’ll provide this option at the gate, if more than 70% of customers have
checked in,” the carrier said.
In an April 29 email to customers, United chief customer
officer Toby Enqvist wrote that the carrier had begun automatically blocking
middle seats in order provide passengers with enough space.
United has now backed away from that guarantee. Its website
currently says that the airline has adjusted its seat-selection systems to
avoid seating separate parties next to each other “where possible.”
“While we cannot guarantee that all customers will be seated
next to an unoccupied seat, based on historically low travel demand and the
implementation of our various social distancing measures, that is the likely
outcome,” the website says.