The fallout from an incident last week on a United Airlines plane, in which a passenger was physically dragged through the aisle off of the supposedly overbooked flight, has led to executive apologies, customer outrage, and calls for passengers to boycott the company. But while many travelers have made public declarations of their intent to stop flying on United, either temporarily or permanently, the question of whether or not customers will actually carry out such a protest isn’t just a question of moral outrage. It’s also a question of economics.
For those flying economy, it seems that the two largest determinants of how Americans pick an airline are price and flight availability. Where does anger factor into customers’ calculus? A new survey from the polling and market-research firm Morning Consult explored the question of what it would take for people to actually boycott United.
The poll, conducted last week, presented several scenarios to the respondents in order to determine how and when they’d shift their buying preferences between United and American Airlines. For those who hadn’t heard of the United incident (about 30 percent of those surveyed), roughly half chose United when the flights and prices were identical. And when the hypothetical American Airlines flight was more expensive than the United one or included a layover, those who hadn’t heard about the incident overwhelmingly chose United—which, again, makes sense.