Southwest will stop overbooking flights, CEO says

Southwest will stop overbooking flights, CEO says

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Southwest CEO Gary Kelly arrives on the airline's maiden flight to Havana, Cuba on Dec. 16. (Southwest Airlines)

WASHINGTON – Southwest Airlines will no longer overbook its flights, CEO Gary Kelly said.

“The company has made the decision that we’ll cease to overbook going forward,” Kelly said Thursday on CNBC.

“We’ve been taking steps over the last several years to prepare ourselves for this” because of fewer no-shows, he said.

But he said the issue gained more urgency after the United Airlines incident, referring to passenger David Dao being dragged off a United flight on April 9 after he refused to give up his seat to an airline employee.

Videos of Dao being removed from the plane at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport went viral. United has made a settlement with Dao, his lawyers announced Thursday.

The practice of overbooking flights has been widely criticized since that incident, even though technically the flight was not overbooked.

Last year Southwest bumped 15,000 passengers – more than any other U.S. airline. Carriers often sell more tickets than there are seats because of frequent passenger  “no-shows.”

But with better forecasting tools and a new reservations system coming online next month, Southwest will no longer need to overbook flights, said Beth Harbin, a spokesperson for the airline.

Another Southwest spokesperson, Brandy King, said the change could be implemented as soon as May 8.

However, the CEO hedged his comments by saying that overbooking will not entirely be eliminated. For instance, Kelly said, the airline might still need to bump people if the originally scheduled plane is substituted with a smaller one, which happens occasionally.

Politicians in Washington and elsewhere have called for a ban on overselling flights. Some critics have said airlines should leave a few seats empty for crew members.

JetBlue is currently the only major U.S. airline that bans overbooking.

Southwest is the only major U.S. airline that does not charge passengers a change fee to rebook their tickets. Change fees can range from $100-$200.

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