Are you flexible when you fly? That's a question United may soon ask you long before you get to the airport.
The carrier is weighing a partnership with Volantio, a tech platform that lets carriers ask passengers with booked tickets if they want to give up their seats days before their trip.
Nothing is set in stone. United has yet to roll out an official test of the program, according to a company spokesman, but it might.
The technology could allow United both to manage overbooked flights, a headline-grabbing issue for the airline this year, and to make extra money off of open-minded fliers.
The strategy is, "'We're going to buy this seat from you, and we're betting we can resell it,'" said Brett Snyder, a former airline executive and editor of the travel blog Crankyflier.com.
Here's how it would work.
The trial would be limited to frequent fliers who are traveling alone and have no connecting flights, according to a person familiar with the possible pilot program.
Up to five days in advance of a flight, United might ask those fliers if their plans are flexible and if they're willing to accept an incentive, like flight vouchers or travel credit, in exchange for their seat.
The system aims to benefit both parties. Travelers who don't care when they reach their destination within a few hours can get a reward. And United scoops up a batch of seats it can resell to last-minute travelers at a higher price.
The program could also be helpful if the carrier has to move a flight to a smaller airplane because of maintenance or weather.
Ideally, the arrangement leaves everyone happy. But there is some risk involved for the airline, said Azim Barodawala, Volantio's chief executive.
"There could be a situation in which they move someone and they can't find someone else to fill that spot," he said.