United CEO touts record: 28 days without bumping a passenger. 'Our previous record was, well, zero'

Key Points
  • United said it was a record since the United-Continental merger.
  • The company was under fire for the violent dragging of a passenger in April.
  • Overselling and bumping passengers is legal.
United CEO: We're beginning to set stage for long-term strategy

Six months ago, United Continental Holdings was reeling after a passenger was violently pulled off one of its flights to make room to transport crew members for another flight.

The incident, which was recorded and posted on social media, created a public relations disaster for United. Outraged travelers took to social media not just to express their anger over passenger Dr. David Dao's removal from the flight but also over airlines' ability to legally oversell and involuntarily deny ticketed passengers a seat on their planes.

After the incident United said it would offer up to $10,000 to passengers on overbooked flights, give gate agents more flexibility to rebook passengers and cut back on overselling flights altogether. Over the summer, the company started testing a program to allow flexible travelers to volunteer to change their flights before they got to the airport.

The efforts appear to be paying off, though improvement is against a low bar.

There were 28 days in the last quarter in which United didn't involuntarily deny boarding to a single passenger, the airline said.

"Our previous record was, well, zero," United's CEO, Oscar Munoz, told CNBC.

The bumping rate in the U.S. was 0.5 per 10,000 passengers in the first six months of the year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, down from 0.6 per 10,000 passengers in the first half of 2016. That figure includes both passengers who were involuntarily denied boarding and those who elect to take a different flight.

In the first six months of this year, 17,330 passengers were involuntarily bumped in the U.S., out of 332.4 million who traveled.