One problem with the way that corporations treat citizens (as employees or customers) is that when there is a snafu, the corporation says what it will do and the citizen can only take it or leave it. That’s not a “level playing field”, as I see it. There were regulations regarding what United needed to offer, but I think we all know about regulatory capture and the reality that many of the rules are clearly one sided.
I’ve been in sales/customer service for most of my working years. I learned a valuable lesson from one co-worker who showed me that, after a mistake on our part, it’s better to ask a customer what they think is fair rather than offer something up front. It helps the customer in trusting the outcome, and levels the playing field. I asked him, “What if the customer is completely unreasonable?” He replied, “Most people want to be fair, reasonable, and respected. Besides, if the person is unreasonable, nothing we offer up front will suit them.”
I used that approach for many years and it’s never let me down.
So here is my suggestion to United and any other company in that predicament:
Next time you are oversold on a flight, announce to the seat holders that you need to re-purchase two seats (or whatever) and you would like any seat holder willing to do so, to please offer their proposals in writing and when you have collected all the proposals, assuming you have at least two, take the best two and move on.
Whatever that price is, it will be lower, in the long run, to what you wind up with doing it the current way.