United Airlines Paid a Savvy Passenger $10,000 to Leave a Plane, Here's Why

A United Airlines passenger was paid $10,000 in travel credit to give up her seat on an overbooked flight at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Allison Preiss, who live-tweeted her experience with the embattled airline, left many on social media wondering: Will they be getting a pricey voucher the next time their seat is bumped?

Sadly, not likely. While a United Airlines representative told Newsweek that the voucher was per the company's policy, it is the highest voucher available and is issued only in extreme circumstances. The voucher limit creation came amid yet another crisis period for the 92-year-old airline.

The $10,000 limit was implemented in April 2017, when United Airlines took a dip in stock after a bloodied passenger was violently dragged off a plane in viral video. At the time, United rolled out a slew of other changes and said it was boosting its offering to ensure that such an incident "never happened again."

Of course, it was also to be competitive: Delta Airlines quickly capitalized on its rival's PR nightmare, raising its policy to include remissions of up to $9,950 shortly after the video went viral.

United Airlines declined to comment on what made Thursday's case so extreme, but it came after a string of new public relations disasters for the embattled airline. Earlier this month, a dog died on one of its flights after a flight attendant ordered it into an overhead bin. A few days later, the airline accidently shipped a dog to the wrong destination. The airline's treatment of animals was condemned across social media and even prompted new animal welfare legislation to be brought forth in Congress.

Clearly the company didn't need another disaster, and Preiss, who works as a public relations professional, had thousands of followers listening to her frustrations with the company.

James Schummer, an economics professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, told Newsweek that the PR disasters likely influenced the airline's decision to hit the maximum payout.

"I'm sure United is compensating more generously right now due to their recent bad press," he said. "Most people will not get a payout as big as this one. If United had offered a $5,000 voucher from the start, someone else would have stepped forward."

Preiss, who couldn't immediately be reached for comment, also had the savvy to negotiate. When the airline offered her $1,000 in travel vouchers, she demanded cash. It was only then that the $10,000 offer came up. That was a wise move, according to Schummer.

They really do not want to give me cash. They just offered me $10,000 in travel credit. TEN THOUSAND.

— Allison M. Preiss (@allisonmpreiss) March 22, 2018

"When you are forcibly bumped from a flight, the law entitles you to cash compensation for anything more than a one-hour delay," Schummer said. "In that case, a good negotiation strategy is to start off by insisting on cash compensation, because the airline would rather offer you a larger amount in travel vouchers than in cash. It sounds like this passenger did exactly that."

So if you are ever on an overbooked flight, remember that you're most likely in a bargaining position. And keep in mind, it could always be worse. Much worse.

On the upside, I wasn’t physically dragged off the plane and my dog wasn’t killed on board, so I’ve got that going for me...which is nice.

— Allison M. Preiss (@allisonmpreiss) March 22, 2018