A communications executive from the Center for American Progress has found herself at the center of the latest United Airlines news. However, this story had a happy ending for the passenger.
After an initial flight cancellation due to snow, Allison Preiss, the organization’s MD of communications, was booked on a flight from Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, DC, to Austin. She was traveling to a bachelorette party for her friend Caren Auchman, SVP and head of the Washington office at Lewis.
Preiss was sitting in the gate area, when United announced that her flight was overbooked and would offer $1,000 to any volunteer that would give up their seat. Later, the airline explained that the issue was a broken seat on fully booked flight.
"No one was taking it," she said. "We just had a snow storm on the East Coast. The original flight I was on was cancelled. People just wanted to get to their destination."
With no volunteers, the gate agent said the passenger paying the lowest fare would be denied boarding. Preiss started tweeting about what was happening in real-time.
.@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
The Preiss found out she was the lowest-fare passenger.
"I was standing in line; I had my suitcase with me," she said. "They scanned my ticket and said, ‘You are my lowest fare passenger, you have to step aside.’"
She continued to document her experience on Twitter.
They are kicking me off this flight.— Allison Preiss (@allisonmpreiss) March 22, 2018
.@united IS THE WORST.— Allison Preiss (@allisonmpreiss) March 22, 2018
"From a customer service perspective, this was not the best way they could have handled this situation, offhand," said Preiss. "They [posed the dilemma as]: We oversold the flight, we have a problem on our hands, and as a result someone is not going to make it on the plane."
She contended that a gate agent could have simply called her over to warn her that, as the lowest fare passenger, she might not make it onto the flight due to a broken seat.
United gave Preiss a $10,000 travel voucher and the next available seat on a flight. Four hours later, she boarded the next plane to her destination.
A coworker at the Center for American Progress sent Preiss’ tweets to The Points Guy, which quickly picked up the story on Thursday. From there, the story went viral, covered by outlets such as The Washington Post, NBC, The Daily Mail, and USA Today.
Preiss said she has talked to a "handful of reporters" about the matter, but hasn’t done any video interviews.
"I have worked in comms for 10 years, I am not going on national TV in a Facetime interview," she said. "I share an office at work with our senior director of broadcast media; she was a CNN producer for 10 years. She knows how to make people look good on TV."
Preiss has no hard feelings and called her experience "the best flight delay ever."
"I think it is good United has empowered their agents to make their customers happy," she said. "I am not saying that is a $10,000 voucher in every situation, but if a customer is walking away feeling happy, even if they have been inconvenienced or delayed, then that is a relatively positive story for them to tell."
Asked how she intends to use the voucher, Preiss said a first-class ticket to Hawaii is at the top of her list.