Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Allison Preiss is managing director of communications for the Center for American Progress.
On Thursday, however, she was witness to the Center for United Progress.
There she was, ready to board an early morning United flight from Washington Dulles International Airport to Austin. She was heading for her friend's bachelorette party.
Suddenly, the potential for regress.
United needed a volunteer to give up their seat.
Let's hear the story in Preiss's own words.
.@united offering $1K in travel credit for an oversold flight. If nobody bites, they will kick off the lowest fare passenger by pulling them out of the boarding line. For a flight that THEY oversold. Unreal.-- Allison Preiss (@allisonmpreiss) March 22, 2018
And guess who turned out to be the lowest fare passenger? Preiss herself.
Things became bumpy.
First, she says she was offered this explanation.
They can't board me on this plane because there is a broken seat.-- Allison Preiss (@allisonmpreiss) March 22, 2018
Like many a traveler might in such circumstances, she expressed herself pithily.
And then, a curious development.
.@united tried to get me to sign a document that says I volunteered my seat on this plane when I was involuntarily denied boarding. Sketchy af.-- Allison Preiss (@allisonmpreiss) March 22, 2018
Here's where things get very, very curious.
NBC Washington reports that the gate agents offered Preiss a $2,000 travel voucher.
She reportedly preferred cold, hard, dependable lucre. Who can blame her? So the airline offered $650.
Suddenly, though, there came another offer from the airline. It was rather larger.
They really do not want to give me cash. They just offered me $10,000 in travel credit. TEN THOUSAND.-- Allison Preiss (@allisonmpreiss) March 22, 2018
Preiss even posted proof of her prize.
This is how badly United didn't want to give me cash: pic.twitter.com/sI7vmbeB2Q-- Allison Preiss (@allisonmpreiss) March 22, 2018
This all seems quite odd.
Why would the airline suddenly raise its offer to the maximum? The $10,000 figure for bumping a passenger was announced by the airline after the now seminal incident involving Dr. David Dao being bumped and then dragged down the aisle of a United plane.
Oddly, Preiss tweeted about that, too.
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 Preiss (@allisonmpreiss) March 22, 2018
I asked the airline why it had suddenly become astoundingly generous. What was it about this passenger that required the maximum offer? I will update, should I hear.
The San Francisco Chronicle's Chris McGinnis says the airline confirmed to him that Preiss was garlanded with the large amount.
Preiss, though, offered a couple more twists to her tale.
I also got two $10 meal vouchers. I am going to go INSANE at Pizza Hut-- Allison Preiss (@allisonmpreiss) March 22, 2018
Pizza Hut? At that time of the morning?
Wait, but surely they'd also offer someone they'd just given $10,000 to a seat in a lovely lounge.
despite this, the airline held pretty firm on not giving me lounge access for the day ¯_(ツ)_/¯ https://t.co/jrLtFoV7nJ-- Allison Preiss (@allisonmpreiss) March 22, 2018
I tell the story in Preiss's own words because it all seems slightly incomprehensible.
It's true that Delta Air Lines did give a woman $4,000 to get bumped from a flight departing Atlanta for South Bend, Indiana.
In her case, though, there was at least an auction-style gradual raising of the offer.
Here, it seems that from a relatively low beginning, the offer soared to the top.
Could it be that the gate agents were desperate to get the flight into the air on a snowy day, so there was no time for messing around?
It's tempting to believe that someone at United was so frightened of yet more bad publicity that they tried to turn this incident into a tale of United's maximal generosity.
I'll conclude on an optimistic note. United Airlines made an unhappy passenger happy.
Indeed, if you're wondering what Preiss might do with the voucher, she told my colleague Bill Murphy Jr.: "Haven't figured out what I'll use it for yet, but I'm told first class to Hawaii or Europe is pretty nice. Funny thing is, I'm normally kind of a bargain flyer. I guess that's how I ended up the lowest fare passenger!"
A happy ending.
Isn't that the maximum the airline could have hoped for?