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United Airlines gives away free flights by mistake

September 16, 2013 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Airlines are trying to steer more bookings to their own websites, but that achievement can be undermined if those sites then give tickets away.

United Airlines apparently committed that serious blunder last week, as delighted passengers rushed to book tickets being sold by mistake for USD 5 or USD 10.250x250

Other passengers did rather better than that, booking tickets that cost nothing at all before the carrier shut down the booking section of its website.

According to TIME’s business and money section, United also closed its call centre for a time to prevent the sale of fares it had accidentally filed.

It seems some of the fares were being sold at a cost of zero dollars and the charges of between USD 5 or USD 10 that some passengers paid represented airport charges. The outage, or blunder, occurred on Thursday and led to the airline accepting no reservations for a period, TIME reported.

“Free fare” blunders (as opposed to ultra-low-fare promotional discounts) are sometimes caused when an operator misses a digit or two while entering fares in a reservations system. Fortunately for airlines, they are rare. Social media networks such as Twitter can make such mistakes known to hundreds of thousands of people within minutes, sometimes before the airline itself realises.

TIME quoted a woman who booked a trans-Continental US domestic fare from Houston to Washington with United for USD 5, with no extra fees. “This is nuts!” she said.

Initially, United stopped short of guaranteeing to honour the tickets but assured TIME that it would “do what is appropriate”. It was still working out the scale of the problem.

A passenger who buys a ticket for USD 5 through an airline error has a strong case that the fare should be honoured. Carriers sometimes decide that carrying a few passengers for nothing is the wisest course to take, as well as being the course of least hassle. A bit of astute PR can even turn the mistake to the airline’s advantage.

Sure enough, a day or so later, United announced it had reviewed the error and decided, “based on these specific circumstances, we will honour the tickets”.

Written by : Peter Needham

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