What do you do when your flight is overbooked?
What do you do? The truth is, there some things you should expect. There are some things you should not.
You have no doubt already seen the story and video about a passenger who was forcibly removed from an overbooked United Airlines flight going from Chicago to Louisville this past weekend because he refused to voluntarily exit on his own. The fact is, United was technically within its rights to bump the man after none of the other ticket holders voluntarily gave up his/her seat.
Know Your Rights
According to airline industry experts, your rights are available online. They’re in the Contract of Carriage (COC). The COC legally lays out everything to which you agree when you buy a ticket. These rules must adhere to all the regulations set down by the Department of Transportation. These rules apply to every commercial flight.
Oversold And Overbooked
Regulations state that in the case of an oversold flight, an airline must first solicit ticket holders willing to voluntarily deboard and surrender their seats. They are expected to offer incentives such as flight credits to encourage volunteers. If no one volunteers, airlines are permitted to conduct what one United Airlines spokesperson called an “involuntary deboarding”. Essentially, an airline is permitted to bump anyone at will, providing they give the displaced ticket holder a full refund.
How Do They Choose?
How do they determine which person to bump? As Shakespeare once wrote: “Aye, there’s the rub.” Henry Harteveldt, the co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group, and a travel industry expert says that most airlines utilize computer algorithms to establish who gets bumped and when.
He believes that the algorithm involves a number of factors including (but not necessarily limited to) the number of individuals in your group, your destination, the number of children involved, your frequent flier status, your ticket price, and possibly where you purchased your ticket. He told the press:
“Generally an airline will be more likely to bump people on a flight to an outbound destination or traveling locally rather than those making a connection,” adding “so they’re inconveniencing someone who’s only going from Point A to Point B.”
What are your rights regarding an oversold flight? Harteveldt admitted: “As a passenger on a U.S. airline, you don’t have very many rights.”
“Survey Said . . .”
In an ironic twist, this past Monday an industry report actually reported that the number of ticket holders who were “involuntarily deboarded” dropped last year from the previous year. According to the Airline Quality Rating (AQR), 2017 reveals that “involuntary denied boardings” per ticket holder improved.
What Are The Odds?
Last year it was 0.62 per 10,000 people which are down from 2015 when it was 0.76 per 10,000 people. Furthermore, the report indicated that United Airlines was actually one of the nine airlines that demonstrated improvement last year. Despite all the indignation expressed over the initial video, some veteran travelers are aware of the facts and find it difficult to understand how the now infamous United incident could happen in the first place.
“Will This Happen To Me?”
As you may have surmised by now, you will probably never personally be involved in an oversold situation, let alone one in which escalates to an involuntary deboarding.
Remember the benefits. Before anyone was removed involuntarily, United actually offered as much as $1,000 worth of travel vouchers to volunteers. This past weekend, for example, Delta Airlines offered both travel vouchers and gift cards to major retail stores in order to deal with overbooked flights. The deals are worth it.
As the Boy Scouts of America say: “Be prepared”. When making your travel plans allow one if not two days of flex time. That way, you will be in a position to take advantage of any potential deals an overbooked airline offers to volunteers.
If you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of being selected for involuntary deboarding, remain calm. Go quickly and quietly. Save your anger for the agents and customer service representatives back at the gate inside the airport. Reign in your outrage and you might score more than just a refund.
Know The Facts
Do your homework before you fly. If you are prepared and know the facts, then you should have no trouble. The odds are with you, the informed traveler. So fret not, dear reader. Keep that positive attitude about travel. Don’t throw out your “Must Do” list yet.