Wednesday’s American Airlines flight 2484 from Las Vegas to Philadelphia had about two dozen more passengers than they could fly. The airline started offering vouchers to people that would give up their seat, but they weren’t getting enough volunteers. So first class passengers reportedly took matters into their own hands, started a collection, and topped off American’s offer so that passengers would get off of the flight and they could leave.
Generally an airline can involuntarily deny boarding to passengers and assuming an overnight delay that will cost them:
- 400% of the cost of a passenger’s ticket
- but not to exceed $1,550
Airlines want people to volunteer for lower amounts, and most airlines prefer to give out their own scrip than pay out cash. Plus they don’t want to run up the statistics of how many passenger’s they’re involuntarily denying travel to.
After the David Dao incident, where a United Express passenger was dragged off a plane by airport police and bloodied, airlines began going to great lengths to avoid involuntary bumps – paying out big compensation (in some cases up to $10,000 in travel vouchers) to avoid it. They’ve gotten less generous since then, and most have cut back substantially since the start of the pandemic.
According to contemporaneous text messages from a passenger,
- American Airlines had reportedly topped out at offering a hotel room for the night and $1,150 in future travel.
- Around that time four volunteers were still needed to get off of the legacy US Airways Airbus A321 flight. Wanting to just depart, first class passengers pooled $200 in cash to top off and get the last passengers to volunteer to be bumped.
It’s unusual in the extreme for passengers to go around collecting money from each other so that they have enough cash to get on their way. Although it’s not unheard of!
Five years ago passengers on a LOT Polish flight had to come up with the cash to pay for repairs. And in 2012 an Air France flight bound for Beirut diverted to Damascas and passengers were forced to come up with cash for additional fuel. The pilot couldn’t use a company credit card because of financial sanctions imposed on Syria.
Another passenger reports that American was having difficulty finding the volunteers it needed on this Las Vegas – Philadelphia flight because those who took a bump wouldn’t get any checked luggage back that night, and because “the agent also threatened to pull all vouchers if the last people” revealed how much they were getting to passengers who had taken lower amounts earlier on.
I was a bit skeptical of the story but it comes from two different passengers and it does seem reasonable that (1) passengers got frustrated on this flight out of Vegas and someone suggested passing the hat, (2) that they even collected $200 from 20 passengers total in the cabin, and (3) maybe someone even offered it to a passenger?
I’ve reached out to American Airlines for a comment on passengers passing the hat to come up with enough money so that they could leave, and will update if they respond.