In the name of profit, most airlines often overbook and sell more tickets than there are seats on the plane. Even if you have boarded the airplane and taken your seat, you can still be physically ejected from the aircraft. In a recent overbooked United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville, a passenger was forced off the airplane. Even though the passenger, Dr. David Dao, has paid for the ticket, he was pulled out of his seat and dragged off the airplane.
Why Are Airlines Overbooking Flights?
When some passengers do not show up for scheduled flights, airlines would lose money on these empty seats. As a result, airlines have study that for some routes there are more “no show” than other routes. So they oversell in certain flights to maximize their profit per flight.
When airlines sell more tickets than there are seats on the airplane, it works out most of the time as some passengers change their flights and others couldn’t make it on time. The overbooked flights would give the airlines the best chance to fill all their seats and maximize profit.
What to Do When Your Flight is Overbooked
When your flight is overbooked, the airline must try a way to entice passengers with cash compensation and vouchers to voluntarily give up their seats for later flights. If no one volunteers, then the airline must figure out a way to deny boarding to passengers against their will.
If your schedule is flexible, you can take advantage of the incentives that the airlines offer, such as hundreds of dollars in flight credit, hotel and food voucher.
If you must get your seat no matter what, then you should check-in early as some airlines pick on passengers who arrived late at the gate or check in last to deny boarding an overbooked flight. Also avoid booking with an airline that often over sell such as United.
Know Your Rights
If your flight has been overbooked and not enough passengers volunteer to take the next flight, you could be denied boarding your flight. If this happens to you and your new flight gets you there more than one hour after the original flight time, by law the airline owes you some compensation.
You are entitled 200% of your one way fare, with a cap of $650, if your domestic flight arrives 1-2 hours late (4 hours for international flight). Additionally, you are entitled to 400% of your one way fare, with a cap of $1,300, if your domestic flight arrives more than two hours late (more than 4 hours for international flight).
Lawmakers on Your Side
In the meanwhile, lawmakers are calling for an investigation about a passenger’s mistreatment on an overbooked United flight. “The last thing a paying airline passenger should expect is a physical altercation with law enforcement personnel after boarding, especially one that could likely have been avoided,” the four top leaders of the Senate commerce committee said in a letter sent to Mr. Oscar Munoz, United’s chief executive.
Separately, a group of 21 senators wrote a letter to Munoz: “Consumer trust and confidence are critical to ensure this industry continues to thrive, and we hope United Airlines will work diligently to immediately address this incident and make necessary improvements to ensure it does not occur again.”
Nice to know "re-accomodate" on United now means "drag you violently out of your seat."
— Meg ♥️ (@sassylibrarian1) April 10, 2017
After the incident, United’s stock fell 1.1%, wiping out $255 million off the airline’s market cap. United could easily avoid the embarrassment by increasing the money incentive to any passengers willing to take the next flight. If $800 would not do it, then $1000, $2000, etc. Eventually, someone will volunteer to take the offer. United could have avoided the fiasco by offering passengers a bigger reward. Additional incentives to solve the issue would be much cheaper than the bad publicity that United received through social media and cable news. Hopefully, this bad incident is a learning lesson to all airlines.