The United Airlines incident could have been avoided. I know this because I have been there. The incident occurred because of overbooking space. I have overbooked my Inn rooms before. The hospitality industry deals with overbookings all the time. It is a terrible moment when you realize that you have to find new accommodations for a guest. The term in hospitality is “walking” a guest. The process of finding new accommodations and figuring out what extra items you can say sorry with is draining on an Innkeeper. But since I have been through this process, I have a couple of tips for United Airlines. Once you identify an overbooking, get the ball rolling immediately to prevent a situation.
- Identify the person that is overbooked. Is he/she a repeat customer of your business? Does that person belong to a loyalty program? Do you have a relationship with this person? Find out who this person is and figure out proper communication. Find a phone number or email and start the conversation right away.
- Do not let the customer check-in. Once you determine that there is an overbooking, figure out a game plan and present it to the guest. Do not let the guest sit down and feel comfortable. You need to inform the guest right away. Call new accommodations, fix a price and provide a dinner or drink ticket at the next accommodation. In the lodging industry, if the guests stay is multiple nights, try to get them to come back to the Inn for the remainder nights if the remaining nights are not overbooked.
- Work with other businesses in your industry. Airlines need to refer each other passengers. There was probably another flight on another airline that the gentleman could have been “walked” to. United – work with other airlines to accommodate overbookings. You might even be able to figure out a price that is comparable to the one you charged and not have to pay extra.
- Always act as if you are being taped. Compassion and politeness will always help with an awkward moment.
Those that are not in the space reservation business do not understand the frustration of cancellations. The reason businesses overbook is because there is a percentage that will always cancel. Cancellations are inevitable. The unfortunate reality of cancellations forces financial issues on a business. It has been my experience that some that agree with a cancellation policy, will contest that policy. When a cancellation policy is contested, credit card companies and lawyers get involved. A business may not only lose the fee for the night’s stay but might also incur credit card and administration fees. A business sets a cancellation policy to protect itself. Taking a space off-line for a period of time means that space cannot be sold. If a cancellation comes at the last minute, the business loses its opportunity to make a profit. If the business overbooks, there is a chance the business might break even for the day. Now that I have experienced the unfortunate “walking” of a guest, I do not contest cancellations and I go with the flow when I am bumped from a flight. In the hospitality business, overbooking is par for the course. As a business owner, I have a procedure in place and am prepared to have a smile and a drink ticket for my overbooked guest.