United reverses decision, will honor 'fantasy fares'

SAN FRANCISCO: United Airlines, in what many have deemed a brilliant - albeit expensive - PR ploy, this week agreed to honor 143 round-trip tickets from San Francisco to Paris sold on its Web site for as little as dollars 25.

SAN FRANCISCO: United Airlines, in what many have deemed a brilliant - albeit expensive - PR ploy, this week agreed to honor 143 round-trip tickets from San Francisco to Paris sold on its Web site for as little as dollars 25.

SAN FRANCISCO: United Airlines, in what many have deemed a brilliant - albeit expensive - PR ploy, this week agreed to honor 143 round-trip tickets from San Francisco to Paris sold on its Web site for as little as dollars 25.

United earlier had said it would not recognize the inadvertently discounted fares, which appeared on its Web site for about an hour on January 31 due to a technical glitch.

However, after a slew of media reports about the so-called 'fantasy fares' appeared in The Wall Street Journal and other publications, and defiant customers holding the discounted tickets appeared on morning shows such as NBC's Today, the airline did an about-face.

'We've chosen not to make this issue a point of dissatisfaction with our customers ... we're saying to them, 'bon voyage,' and enjoy this once in a lifetime opportunity,' United media relations representative Chris Brathwaite told the Associated Press.

Cynics called United's decision to honor the tickets a preemptive move designed to quell further damning media reports and public ill will. Others saw the reversal as a well-informed PR ploy that made the company look like a consumer hero.

Brathwaite dismissed both theories for the company's motives: 'The decision was not about PR, it was about the customers,' he insisted. 'We have nothing more to say about it than what you have already seen in the media,' he added.

Brathwaite also denied that United sent out a press release or did any proactive media outreach regarding the reversal of its decision.

At press time, nothing regarding the fare slip-up or the decision to honor the discounted tickets had appeared on the company's Web site.

Whether motivated by a desire for good publicity or a need to dodge consumer criticism, United's actions won't come cheap. According to an estimate based on San Francisco-to-Paris fares as of February 21, the airline stands to lose nearly dollars 67,000.



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