Southwest is getting out of the overbooking game. Following the recent “incident” involving United Airlines, Southwest will heretofore only sell as many tickets as it has seats.
According to Southwest CEO Gary Kelly, this decision has been in the works for years. The airline has “been taking steps over the last several years to prepare ourselves for this,” he said. Spokesperson Brandy King told Today in the Sky that Southwest will “no longer have a need to overbook” when it launches a new reservations system on May 9. King says the airline has made improvements behind the scenes that allow it to more accurately forecast inventory.
Crucially, this doesn’t mean Southwest will never again have an overbooked flight. Instead, Southwest will end the practice of overbooking, meaning it will no longer bake oversold flights into it’s revenue management system. Airlines use overbooking to protect themselves against cancellations and other factors that might affect capacity and, subsequently, revenue.
King did say that “operational challenges” may occasionally force the carrier to ask for volunteers to take alternative flights. But “overbooking … in advance will be off the table as a consideration.” What those “operational challenges” may be is anyone’s guess, but Southwest is clearly hedging here and, wisely, not promising more than it can deliver.
For travelers on Southwest, this is obviously a win. Involuntary bumping is rare, but travelers experience an outsized impact due to the sheer inconvenience. But the DOT reports that only 8,955 of the 164,615,313 passengers who flew between October and December 2016 were involuntarily bumped.
The hope is that more airlines follow suit. It seems everyone wins: passengers no longer deal with the inconvenience, and airlines, if they follow Southwest’s approach, gain stability in their inventory (not to mention, it would be good PR). And if one of the largest carriers in the country can do it, why not others?
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