United Airlines is making a number of policy changes aimed at improving customer service and CEO Oscar Munoz has issued another public apology for the incident on flight 3411 in which a passenger was dragged off an aircraft to make way for a crew member.

The April 9 incident in Chicago caused worldwide public outrage when video of the passenger being dragged down the aisle by law enforcement officers went viral. The passenger, who did not want to give up his seat, was hospitalized. The flight was operated as United Express by United regional affiliate Republic Airline and the crew that was seated so they could reach Louisville, Kentucky, in time to operate another flight early the following day was also with Republic.

An initially tepid apology by Munoz further enraged the public and United was lampooned by media and TV satirists. Two days after the incident, Munoz went on TV and gave a full apology, promising a full review of the incident and company procedures. In the newspaper ads today Munoz states, “We can never say we are sorry enough for the shameful way one of our customers was treated aboard United’s flight 3411. That day, corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values.”

The Star Alliance airline has issued a 10 bullet-point list of commitments, published on the company’s website and in the newspaper ads, which increase customer compensations incentives for voluntary denied boarding to up to $10,000. They also give gate agents more options in over-sold or crew-travel situations, and they prevent agents from calling in law enforcement officers to handle anything but a safety and security problem.

United will also adopt a new no-questions-asked policy on permanently lost bags. In these instances, United will pay a customer $1,500 for the value of the bag and its contents with no questions asked, the airline says. For claims or reimbursement over $1,500, additional documentation may be required. This process is expected to be in place in June.

Airline management is hoping that these commitments—which the airline promises will be just the beginning in efforts to be more customer focused—will help regain passenger trust. However, it remains to be seen whether it will be enough to fend off potential new customer regulation; several US lawmakers demanded detailed explanations for the incident.

The company said April’s events were “a defining moment for our United family and it is our responsibility—our mission—to make sure we all learn from this experience. The changes we have announced are designed to better serve our customers and empower our employees. This is how we begin to earn back your trust.”

In detail, United’s policy changes are:

1. United will limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only.

United will not ask law enforcement officers to remove customers from flights unless it is a matter of safety and security. United implemented this policy on April 12.

2. United will not require customers already seated on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk.

United implemented this policy on April 27.

3. United will increase customer compensation incentives for voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000.

United's policy will be revised to increase the compensation levels up to $10,000 for customers willing to volunteer to take a later flight. This will go into effect on April 28.

4. United will establish a customer solutions team to provide agents with creative solutions.

United will create a team to proactively identify and provide gate agents with creative solutions such as using nearby airports, other airlines or ground transportation to get customers and crews to their final destinations. Separately, the team also will work to provide solutions to help get crews to their final destinations. United expects the team to be operational by June. Examples include: a) suggest flights to close-by airports and then provide transportation to the customer's preferred destination; b) If a customer's travel includes a connecting flight, provide options that would eliminate the connection and still get the customer to the destination; c) offer ground transportation where practical.

5. United will ensure crews are booked onto a flight at least 60 minutes prior to departure.

Unless there are open seats, all crew members traveling for work on our aircraft must be booked at least 60 minutes before departure. This policy was implemented on April 14.

6. United will provide agents with additional annual training.

United will provide annual training for frontline employees to enhance their skills on an ongoing basis that will equip them to handle the most difficult of situations. This training will begin in August.

7. United will create an automated system for soliciting volunteers to change travel plans.

Later this year, United will introduce a new automated check-in process, both at the airport and via the United app, that will gauge a customer's interest in giving up his or her seat on overbooked flights in exchange for compensation. If selected, that customer will receive their requested compensation and be booked on a later United flight.

8. United will reduce its amount of overbooking.

United has evaluated its overbooking policy. As a result, adjustments have been made to reduce overbookings on flights that historically have experienced lower volunteer rates, particularly flights on smaller aircraft and the last flights of the day to a particular destination.

9. United will empower employees to resolve customer service issues in the moment.

Rolling out later this year, United will launch a new "in the moment" app for our employees to handle customer issues. This will enable flight attendants (by July) and gate agents (later this year) to compensate customers proactively (with mileage, credit for future flights or other forms of compensation) when a disservice occurs.

10. United will eliminate the red tape on lost bags.

To read the full report, click here.

Inset: United CEO Oscar Munoz

Mark Nensel mark.nensel@penton.com