Delta Air Lines Inc. increased the payouts its airport agents can offer passengers on overbooked flights, moving to prevent a public relations nightmare similar to the one plaguing United Continental Holdings Inc.

Customer service agents will be able to offer passengers as much as $2,000 when they’re asked to give up a seat on an oversold flight, up from $800, according to a memo seen by Bloomberg. Managers can offer as much as $9,950, more than seven times the previous cap of $1,350, the memo dated April 13 says.

The new policies come in the wake of a controversy that enveloped rival United this week, after law enforcement officers dragged a passenger off a United Express flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky. The passenger, David Dao, was already seated on the plane and refused to give up his seat to make room for a United crew member who needed to fly. The incident made worldwide news and led to questions about why the airline didn’t simply offer Dao more money to leave the plane.

Delta spokesman Anthony Black confirmed the authenticity of the memo. United this week said it would review its policies regarding overbooked flights and announce results of the review by April 30. The company reiterated its plan Friday after the contents of the Delta memo were reported.

The memo also gives customer service agents tips on how to best deal with oversold flights, including looking for passengers with other options for non-stop flights. Agents are advised to contact managers if compensation above $2,000 is needed, the memo says. It does not address the United controversy.

The airline is changing policy as it deals with its own bad publicity. An April 5 storm in Atlanta shut down Delta’s operations during heavy spring break travel, with delays made worse by a breakdown in the airline’s crew location and assignment systems, Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said in an email to customers. About 4,000 flights were canceled in the wake of the storm.


Delta is offering hundreds of thousands of customers $200 flight vouchers or 20,000 bonus frequent-flier miles as part of an apology for flight cancellations earlier this month.

“I have heard from many of you who feel like we let you down. In acknowledgment of what you endured, 20,000 bonus miles will be added to your SkyMiles account in the next 48 hours,” Bastian said in the emails. “I am sorry for what you experienced.”

The aftereffects of Delta’s storm-related disruptions lasted as many as six days for some travelers, as they struggled to rebook flights or shelved getaways while the airline tried to recover from the breakdown. Delta said this week that the cancellations, lost revenue and other costs including travel vouchers and bonus mile giveaways will reduce second-quarter pretax profit by $125 million.

Some Delta customers who are not SkyMiles members are getting emails offering $200 flight vouchers.

As the second-largest U.S. airline, Delta runs about 6,000 flights a day during peak summer months. The airline has more than 800 planes and flies about 180 million passengers a year.

Delta has suffered a series of setbacks in the past year. In January, customers were marooned at airports when flights were grounded after a computer system breakdown. In August, Delta canceled about 2,000 flights over a three-day period after its worldwide computer system failed.

Delta’s Black declined to comment on the voucher and SkyMiles bonus gesture.

“As always, any customer who feels the specifics of their flight requires additional attention should contact Delta Customer Care,” he said.

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