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Delta may now offer up to $9,950 to passengers willing to give up seats

Delta Air Lines planes at Orlando International Airport. (2016 file / Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

ATLANTA — In the wake of the controversy over a United Airlines passenger dragged from a flight after he refused to give up his seat, Delta Air Lines is increasing the amount it offers to passengers who volunteer to give up their seats on oversold flights.

That means being on an overbooked Delta flight could now be worth a whole lot more.

Atlanta-based Delta is increasing the amount its regular customer service agents can give in compensation to those who volunteer to give up their seats to $2,000, up from $800, according to a memo to Delta airport customer service employees this week obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Managers can now offer volunteers as much as $9,950, up from $1,350.

Travelers who end up involuntarily bumped from a flight — when there aren’t enough volunteers — are eligible for up to $1,350 as dictated by federal rules, depending on the value of their ticket and the length of time they have to wait for another flight.

Delta said it is increasing the maximum incentive for volunteers to “reinforce our commitment to our agents and their ability to care for our customers,” according to the memo.

Delta also solicits passengers to bid for how much they are willing to give up their seat for before they ever get to the gate, through an electronic bidding system during check-in online or at an airport kiosk.

That already reduces the rate of involuntarily bumped passengers on Delta flights.

Delta had 1,238 involuntarily bumped passengers in 2016, a rate of 0.1 per 10,000 passengers. That was the second-best rate among U.S. airlines.

Customer service agents trying to resolve overbookings can draw from the list of those who volunteered to give up their seats for a price, and can also ask for more volunteers.

The memo states that agents should start “at a lower compensation and increase, if necessary,” and call up passengers who may have non-stop alternatives that could get them to their destinations faster.

One best practice listed in the memo: “Sell the city” in case the passenger will be spending the night.

But if more volunteers are still needed, agents are directed to page those at risk of being involuntarily bumped, “inform them of their status” and share their options.

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