By now many of you have either heard the story or seen the video of a passenger being dragged of a reportedly crowded United Airlines flight. And if you have traveled by air at all in recent years, you may know the routine by now. You are at your gate waiting to board and comes the announcement “we are looking for two passengers who may want to take a later flight.” Translation: the airline has overbooked the flight and is now hoping someone will agree voluntarily to basically get kicked off or as rather as the airline puts it “to give up their seat.”
“They do have the right to bump, this is not uncommon in the fact that flights are oversold. i mean it happens on a daily basis,” says Ken Jenkins who is often interviewed for his aviation knowledge. He worked in the industry for more than three decades, including 26 years for one airline.
He does say the United case is rare in that most airlines settle the seat issue before allowing everyone to board. “And typically what happens is that the gate agent just before departure time will announce that they have more passengers than seats and they’re offering compensation,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins also told us that while it’s been reported that United engaged in a “random” computer selection of who to bump, he says often all airlines don’t necessarily have a process that might be as “random” as you would think. “The price of the ticket, (your) frequent flier (status) and the check in time are all parameters that might be used,” he said.
Jenkins says it’s certainly unlikely for example that someone in First Class would be bumped. So for those of us who fly the “cheap seats” he says a few things may help us not face a bumping situation. He says always arrive early to the airport because when you check in may affect your status. An Airline Bill of Rights published on the Department of Transportation (DOT) website says the last passenger to check in is often the first to be bumped, fair or not.
Savannah travel agent Liz Harn says if possible use computer check in 24 hours ahead of time to try to ensure your seat. “You have more of a standing that way. You have followed every rule, you prechecked and you printed your boarding pass.”
Harn says the airlines use those early check ins to help determine just how many people are going to show up for the flight. The Airline Bill of Rights says that overbooking is not illegal although Harn believes at this point, maybe it should be. “If I know I’ve only got a dozen eggs can I sell you 16 eggs?” she says.
Word is it will be a busy summer travel season so along with booking early, get to the airport early on the big day. It may help. But Jenkins also says this. “It seems trite to say pack your patience but pack your patience and if you are asked to leave the aircraft do not argue the point on the plane. Get off the aircraft and take your belongings with you and settle up off the aircraft versus on board.”
If you are bumped for any reason, the airline is required to compensate you if you will be more than two hours late to your destination.