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Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you have heard, seen, or read the vast output of media coverage about the doctor who was forcibly ejected from the seat he had purchased on a United Airlines flight going from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to Louisville, Kentucky. Generally speaking, United and the Chicago police have been justly chastised for their horrific actions. 

But has everything been said about that incident? I think two important points have been overlooked. One of them is pro-airline, the other very definitely against.

  1. The overbooking of airline seats must not be forbidden. Although several legislators, in reaction to the incident, have introduced bills prohibiting the practice, to do so would raise airline ticket prices by at least 20%. The fact that many passengers fail to show up for their flights requires that airlines overbook to fill their planes. To prohibit overbooking would raise the cost of air transportation because it would necessarily result in nearly every flight having a large number of empty seats.
  2. But a cash reward should be offered to passengers voluntarily giving up their seats in overbooked situations. Apparently, passengers on the infamous Chicago-Louisville flight had been offered vouchers of $800 and then $1,000 to voluntarily leave the plane, but that offer was apparently insufficient to persuade any passenger to do so.

Why was the auction-like method then dispensed with at that point?  Why wasn’t the offer raised, and made in cash? Surely there was some price at which one or two passengers would have voluntarily left, and though this would have cost United a few thousand dollars, it would have left everyone satisfied. The offer of questionable vouchers didn’t work; cash might have. 

In my innocence, I had always thought that handsome cash offers were always made in situations where a flight was badly overlooked; apparently I was wrong, and United Airlines quite stubbornly felt otherwise. They are now paying for their miserly stance. One hopes that the courts will award a hefty sum to the doctor—David Dao—who was so horribly humiliated and injured by United’s stubborness.