Disturbing Trends in Overbooking Air Travel

By | October 13, 2006

As Today in the Sky reports, more than 185,000 passengers were involuntarily bumped off airline flights during the second quarter of 2006, a 40% increase over the same period in 2005. It is the highest second-quarter figure since 2000. The number of fliers who gave up seats on flights rose 10%.

We suggest you read Mr. Murtzabaugh’s comment and references on the subject. It is shocking when one realizes that the maximum value of $400 for involuntary denied boarding was set in 1978 and has not been changed. Had we adjusted the number for inflation, that would be more than $1200 today. With last minute tickets costing much more than $400, it may give airlines incentives to oversell at the higher rates, as they will still make a profit even with a $400 payoff.

Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal, whom he references, makes a good point… “perhaps airlines should only be allowed to bump passenger with refundable tickets. If the ticket — essentially a contract for service — can’t be broken by the customer, why should the vendor be allowed to break it?” With change fees on flights anywhere from $25 to $200 before the difference between your fare and one currently available on your new itinerary is even calculated, the airlines make money on your change no matter what.

As the Consumerist notes and we concur…”Isn’t it great when people who are paid to be representatives of a company can just wave aside previous assertions when they find fulfilling promised obligations inconvenient?” Your carrier says they’ve sold you a ticket from Point A to Point B…and they use terms such as confirmed…but confirmed doesn’t mean that they can’t oversell the flight and give your seat away. Despite any assertion to the contrary, airlines can do whatever they want.
This isn’t confined with to the airlines, ff you use a travel agent, expect them to pad the bill for their labor…after all, the airline isn’t paying them. This includes online travel agencies like Expedia, Orbitz, or Travelocity. We’ve long criticized them for their customer service.
So…if you change a ticket, you pay an administrative service charge for changing plus any difference in fare(unrestricted tickets and Southwest excepted). That can amount to several hundred dollars. If they bump you, they have a set amount they are required to pay…

Jetblue doesn’t overbook. Rejecting the industry practice, Jetblue doesn’t overbook its flights. Only in rare circumstances…usually emergency situations, will they bump confirmed passengers. As David Neeleman, their CEO said, “People want to go to the airport knowing they have a seat.” We hope that Jetblue does not reverse this policy.
Plenty of other industries sell out their offerings without denying the contracted service to the purchaser. Airlines, however, believe that without overbooking, otherwise full planes would be flying with empty seats due to no-shows.

Of course, ultimately, denied boarding compensation can work out. You can get a free trip if you are willing to give up your seat. But if you have somewhere to be, ie a dream vacation…you could end up losing all your nonrefundable arrangements and end up with travel vouchers which are not worth quite as much.

Author: Guru

Guru is the Editor of Flight Wisdom and a long time aviation enthusiast.