Overbooking, Check-In Times and Other Airline Tricks

By | December 4, 2007

Overbooking is annoying. With the exception of Jetblue, which does not, airlines typically overbook by 33%. Find another industry where, with the approval of the government, a company is allowed to knowingly sell more of a product than they know they have. What reaction would this have if it were done at the theater, for example?

United Airlines is even asking for volunteers during online check-in to give up their seat if needed, as the Cranky Flier reports.

Just remember, lacking volunteers, agents usually go after the last passengers to check-in or to arrive at the gate. Kiplinger’s has some advice on ‘playing the bumping game’. the most important thing to know if you are bumped off a flight is what the rules are. And remember, even if they don’t have to give it to you, airport agents have some discretion in these cases. So don’t be abusive, be respectful, prevail upon their humanity(if the airline hasn’t had it surgically removed as it interferes with their jobs) and ask. Asking doesn’t hurt.

Baggage Check-In Times are another area that airlines are a bit tricky and/or confusing. As the Consumerist points out, one of their people wouldn’t let a passenger check a bag because it was one-minute past their 45-minute baggage check-in time. Their solution was to bring the bag through security, then have it gate checked. Not totally honest, but it can work.

How are we meant to know these times, as they vary at different airports and for different carriers, as well as destinations? We turn to the Cranky Flier’s two part expose on the issue, complete with tables. Here’s Part One, and Part Deux. Brief summary…cutoff times range usually from 15-60 minutes domestically, and 60-195 minutes internationally(Although why Delta cuts off at 195 only in Istanbul we do not know).

One final warning, courtesy of Upgrade Travel….what they call Flight Mitosis. Delta, apparently unhappy that some of their passengers had booked cheap nonstops, rebooked them on connecting flights despite the fact the original flights still existed. This may be an error in their automatic rebooking system, or a deliberate fault, we will not say. But the big lesson is: Watch out for and Be on Top of Schedule Changes. Make sure you check periodically to see if your flight has changed and don’t trust the airline to tell you.