#overbooking has damaged the image of #united airlines, especially with incidents like the dragging of Dr. David Dao being given prominent media coverage. To address the problem, the air carrier announced a rewards system for passengers bumped off because of overbooked flights.

Under United Airlines’ new Flex-Schedule Program, travelers on an overbooked flight will receive an email from the air carrier ahead of their flight. The email will ask the passenger if he or she is flexible for the scheduled trip, Fortune reported.

Incentive of $250 travel voucher

If the passenger says “yes,” United Airlines will rebook the traveler within 24 hours upon replying to the email.

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The traveler will be booked on a different flight from the same airport and on the same date. In addition, United Airlines will offer a $250 travel voucher to the passenger.

Startup Volantio, based in Atlanta, helped United Airlines create the program and technology. The Flex-Schedule Program aims to change the perception of the air carrier which has suffered a negative public image after horror stories about overbooking were published.

Azim Barodawala, the chief executive of Volantio, said flyers will be happier if airlines could offer them a buyout in advance. “For airlines, it represents a release valve – a way to shuffle people around when you’re capacity overstrained. This benefits the customer as well, you’re creating choice for them,” Bloomberg reported.

Dao’s case

It has long been an aviation industry practice to offer passengers cash or frequent flier miles if they are on an overbooked flight and willing to give up their seat.

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The offer, however, was usually made just before the plane was about to depart. United offered those perks to passengers, but no one accepted the offer so the air carrier’s computer system randomly selected a passenger to bump off which resulted in incidents such the Dao one when he was dragged off the flight.

Besides Dao’s case, there was other bad publicity for United Airlines after a Hawaii middle school teacher, Shirley Yamauchi, was forced to give up a seat for her 27-month-old son on an overbooked flight to Boston last week. She had to hold her child, Taizo, throughout the trip which caused her arm and leg to numb.

Yamauchi paid almost $1,000 for her son’s ticket. The explanation of United Airlines for the gaffe was that the boarding pass of Taizo was improperly scanned so the child was not logged into the air carrier’s system. His seat was eventually released to a male passenger who was a standby traveler, The Washington Post reported.

Dave Bartels, the vice president for pricing and revenue management of United Airlines, however, said the company’s Flex-Schedule Program is not so much about overbooking.

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He admitted the air carrier could use it to ease seat shortage on an overbooked flight, but its main goal, Bartels insisted, is to make available a valuable seat and offer it to someone who needs it more.

Besides United Airlines, Tiger Airways will sign in with Volantio and offer a similar program in August. Alaska Air would follow in September and Qantas in October. #flex program