United Airlines' week from hell has the entire airline industry reevaluating how carriers handled overbooked flights—including how much passengers should be compensated if they're bumped.
Delta, which was already the airline most likely to compensate passengers for agreeing to be bumped voluntarily, has decided to dramatically increase how much customers are allowed to get. In the past, Delta gate agents had authorization to offer passengers up to $800 in flight vouchers if they volunteer to be bumped. That limit has reportedly been raised to $2,000. Delta supervisors, who had previously been restricted to a $2,000 cap on vouchers offered to bumped passengers, can go all the way up to $9,950.
The Boarding Area travel blog reported the information on Friday morning, citing an "internal source." The Associated Press later confirmed the changes at Delta after getting its hands on an internal memo.
Delta's voluntary compensation changes come in the wake of a horrific week for rival United Airlines, which saw its stock price tank after videos spread on social media showing a bloodied passenger dragged off a United plane after refusing to get off a supposedly oversold flight. United Continental CEO Oscar Munoz made a bad situation worse with a couple of awkward statements that essentially blamed the victim, before finally offering a more full-fledged apology taking "full responsibility" for the "truly horrific event" and promising to "fix what's broken so this never happens again."
Clearly, the rest of the airline industry closely watched the United fiasco unfold. Some carriers trolled United with coy messages on social media—Qatar Airways, for instance, Tweeted that it was "united in our goal to always accommodate our passengers." And now Delta seems to be reacting to the situation by taking steps to help it significantly decrease the odds it would have to bump passengers off flights against their will.
Does this mean that passengers will actually received higher compensation when they are bumped from flights on Delta or other airlines? There's no guarantee that this will be the case.
When flights are overbooked, the airlines generally conduct auctions to get passengers to give up their seats voluntarily. They start with a fairly low levels of compensation—say $200 or $300 worth of flight vouchers—and increase the amounts until there are enough volunteers. Delta's changes mean that the airline can pay out more to avoid having to bump anyone involuntarily, but the carrier won't necessarily dish out bigger vouchers in all overbooked flight situations.
"I wouldn’t expect voluntary denied boarding compensation on most Delta flights to be higher than before," the Boarding Area blog explained. "They’ll likely continue to start as low as they can, and only increase compensation as needed. However, in situations where they’d otherwise have to deny boarding to passengers, I suspect the limit will go up."