What I’m Afraid is Going to Happen When Airlines Have to Deny Boarding to Passengers in the Future

The world is aghast at the passenger who was dragged off a United flight by airport police on Sunday night. And rightly so. It’s big news because things like this rarely happen, but they sure feel like they could happen to most any of us who travel. No one wants to be put in that position.

Here, everything failed.

  • United’s regional airline partner had an operational problem (as did many airlines over a several day period). They didn’t have crew available to work a flight back from Louisville to Chicago. So they decided to put a crew onto this flight and bump 4 passengers.

  • This made some sense — inconvenience four passengers to avoid having to cancel a whole flight full of passengers in the morning, and possible even further flights that would use the same aircraft.

  • But there were no takers for involuntary denied boarding compensation of $800 in travel credit plus a hotel night.

  • Since the airline isn’t required to pay more than 4 times the one way fare, capped at $1350, for involuntarily bumping passengers that’s what they did next. It’s standard procedure not just at United, and it’s what the gate agent following procedures was supposed to do.

  • The doctor, who was one of the passengers chosen, refused to get off. United called the airport police. He wouldn’t budge, and he was dragged off the plane.

United’s livery of my youth. By Torsten Maiwald, GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons

This was a terrible incident, with several failures along the way. (This Atlantic piece citing my post arguing the airport police sympathizes with both passenger and gate agent.)

Most people have focused on United being unwilling to pay more compensation to get passengers to volunteer. As long as the government caps the amount the airline has to pay, at the same time limiting customers’ ability to sue airlines for most anything beyond explicit breaches of their contracts of carriage, we aren’t likely to see more compensation.

Instead if United had just decided to stick it to passengers already in Louisville and cancel their flight no one would have been the wiser. Plenty of people would have missed important business meetings and urgent life events, but it would have been just a cancelled flight and not a defining cultural moment.

Airlines are too quick to call the cops on customers, customer service challenges — arguing with an airline employee — has become a risky proposition with law enforcement involved in our post-9/11 world. That has to change, and United CEO Oscar Munoz — after initially bungling the airline’s response — now says that it will. At least, the airline won’t call the cops on customers with valid boarding passes for a flight.

What will they do instead if a passenger refuses to give up their seat in a similar involuntary denied boarding situation? Involuntary denied boarding is already rare (down about 75% since deregulation), and bumping passengers after they’re seated is rarer still. But if it comes up again, a passenger is asked to leave the plane, and they don’t… the airline is likely to simply cancel the flight.

Had they done that they would have avoided the media firestorm, and they would not have even paid out each passenger involuntary denied boarding compensation.

  • United’s contract of carriage says they won’t even provide a hotel to passengers when a flight cancellation is “due to circumstances outside UA’s control.”

  • They provide snacks and meals only “in the event of an extensive delay caused by UA”

You might argue that the situation was within United’s control because they could have offered more denied boarding compensation.

You might even argue that by cancelling the flight United involuntarily denied boarding to everyone. These would be novel arguments that, given recent media attention, could even get a positive hearing before Elaine Chao’s Department of Transportation. Or not.

Airlines need overbooking, as Matthew Yglesias explains in a Vox piece that cites my writing on the United incident,

The economic case for it is, however, fairly ironclad. It’s simply not that uncommon for a ticketed passenger to not show up for a flight due to illness or some external change of plans. Customers also value the opportunity to reschedule flights for less than the full price of buying a brand new ticket. Meanwhile, the profit-maximizing strategy for first-class seats is generally to price them so high that they don’t sell out, and then offer a few lucky passengers free upgrades — immediately freeing up space in apparently overbooked economy cabins — as a privilege of their advanced frequent flier status.

An airline could, of course, refuse to overbook as a matter of policy. This would result in flying planes that were substantially less full, on average, without meaningfully reducing operating costs. Ticket prices would need to be higher as a result. No airline has seen this as a winning strategy in the marketplace, and regulators haven’t tried to impose it on them.

Given the PR risk in confronting a passenger, airlines are more likely to take operationally costly measures to prevent a situation like the doctor being dragged off the plane. That means pricier tickets over time, too — and as Tyler Cowen explains “[t]he more you complain, the more you are redistributing wealth — through the medium of preferred price-quality configurations — away from lower earners and toward the wealthy.”

Airlines are less likely to increase compensation payments unless DOT guidelines and liability shields change (both of which also would ceteris paribus raise price). And I’m not confident we can reverse the paranoid security state where customers disagreeing with an employee aren’t placed in legal jeopardy by police — except perhaps in the narrow case of a passenger with a confirmed seat that has boarded a plane and who is asked to leave.

In other words, I’m afraid things really won’t get better.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I said this very thing from the start. Airlines won’t risk such nightmare PR again, they will just cancel a flight.

  2. @W_Man you’re interpreting that totally out of context, United said that it didn’t make sense to include seat assignment fees in a list of mandatory fees because they weren’t mandatory, everyone gets a seat assignment without having to pay a fee to get one.

  3. @Paul +1. As a customer, you get to plan in advance when you travel, but once you commit (pay) you are stuck. You have now entered a world where you really have no rights and for that lowly status you get to pay for a “discounted” service. But the discount is not in dollars – it is in services provided and how you are treated. I applaud the guy for standing (sitting) his ground. Yeah, maybe he went too far, but sometimes it takes someone going too far in order to force change.

    United had an operational problem, which they managed to turn into a customer service problem when it was foisted on the passengers, which United managed to turn into a PR nightmare when United decided that the customer was not really all that valuable after all. Munoz cannot seem to decide if the guy is a villian (Monday to appease himself and staff) or a victim (Tuesday to appease the public and shareholders).

  4. now more people will be aware of the system and hold out for better compensation as a result of all this.

  5. Gary,

    I disagree with your prediction. As a business, the airline will do whatever will make them the most money in the long run. Cancelling a flight and reaccomodating hundreds of people will almost certainly not be cheaper than paying an extra $500 (or whatever it would have taken) to get people to voluntarily miss the flight.

    Missed in all of the discussion of this incident is why United maxed out their offer at $800 instead of going higher. This is most likely because they have programmed their computers to calculate how much they have to pay under DOT rules and they stop the bidding at that point as it is now cheaper for them to pay the IDB amount than to increase their offer. They don’t care that it makes whoever has to miss the flight upset. The important thing is that they have saved money (which is more important to them than a happy customer).

    What should really happen is to get rid of the concept of IDB. If they need to free up seats, they have to keep increasing the bid until enough people take it. If the bid goes so high that they now lose money on the flight, then cancel it, but they will also lose money on a cancelled flight so it would have to go pretty high for that to happen.

    Of course this issue with United was not IDB. They had already boarded the plane so the DOT formula didn’t really apply in the first place.

  6. IDB compensation needs to be cash and equal or more than the last minute walk up fare for the route. That way its expensive enough that airlines will not IDB instead offer more for VDB. Right now the IDB rules say that IDB compensation is 4 times the fare price paid. For many fares bought in advance on this route that amount is 99 dollars so if the airline IDBs the passenger the passenger only gets 400 dollars (800 for VDB was actually generous). However if the passenger needs to make his schedule and needs to walk over to a competitor and get a last minute ticket he will probably only get a first class fare for $1000+. So basically an airline is allowed to cause 1000 USD of inconvenience by paying 400 USD.
    Effectively the lowest bucket fares have been turned into standby fares. Many passengers would not have booked the cheaper fare if they were aware they are only being sold a space available standby fare rather than a real fare . This is false advertising and illegal in the US. Someone needs to start a class action lawsuit.

  7. Outside of the airline’s control does not mean canceling a flight when overbooked. Outside of the airline’s control is essentially a force majeure event — weather, act of God, strike, war, terrorism, police action (not precipitated by the airline), etc.

    And, the fact that fares are almost always non refundable (unless full Y or F) means that there is little justification for overbooking — the airline has received its money ahead of time whether or not the seat goes unfilled.

    Sorry, Gary — my view is that stories of this kind may well precipitate Congressional action to even the disparity in bargaining power between customers and the airline’s. Maybe not now, but eventually.

  8. And what about rule 240? Surely there must’ve been some way to find seats on another airline and reroute the four involuntarily bumped passengers using rule 240 AND generous compensation, even if it required transiting the other airline’s hub…where there’s a will, there’s a way…but United instead opted to take the cheapest route, displacing its fare paying passengers in favor of its subcontractor’s crew. You reap what you sow. That Oscar flip-flopped and mismanaged an already bad situation is no surprise to me. He says what his PR dept tells him to say in interviews in an attempt to put a more presentable image out for the airline as it attempts to whitewash its scandal plagued recent past. Meanwhile, raise your hands if you think United, or most of the other airlines in this country, really gives two licks about anyone sitting behind the curtain other than to come up with ever more imaginative tricks to charge more and offer less?

  9. And what about rule 240? Surely there must’ve been some way to find seats on another airline and reroute the four involuntarily bumped passengers using rule 240 AND offering more generous compensation, even if it required transiting the other airline’s hub…where there’s a will, there’s a way…but United instead opted to take the cheapest route, displacing its fare paying passengers in favor of its subcontractor’s crew. You reap what you sow. That Oscar flip-flopped and mismanaged an already bad situation is no surprise to me. He says what his PR dept tells him to say in interviews in an attempt to put a more presentable image out for the airline as it attempts to whitewash its scandal plagued recent past. Meanwhile, raise your hands if you think United, or most of the other airlines in this country, really gives two licks about anyone sitting behind the curtain other than to come up with ever more imaginative tricks to charge more and offer less?

  10. Maybe the solution lies in forcing airlines to offer much higher cash compensation before removing someone from the plane, say up to $10,000 or more. Most likely, someone will take less.

    Also, I’m not sure that this outrage will simply pass and people will go back to buying the cheapest tickets, even if on United. Take the case of Malaysia Airlines, where I understand that the disasters had a lasting financial impact. If people feel that an airline is physically unsafe (because they may get beat up), they may actually fly someone else.

    It’s one thing to “get what you pay for” (as with Spirit). It’s something else to actually feel afraid for your physical well-being.

  11. First, folks are overplaying the idea of “non-refundable”; I can wait until 5 minutes before departure and call to cancel/change my “non-refundable” ticket and I’m only out $200 even if the ticket cost $1500; that’s why overbooking is common; airlines have massive data to help them manage the expectations for cancellations but this is one of the rare occasions it didn’t work. Plus, they count on the idea that people will be rational (ie. not throwing a tantrum when an officer asks you politely to exit the plane, officers not making more of a scene than necessary.)

    Paying $10,000 vs. the PR effect would have been great, except you have to expect to keep paying $10,000 once you’ve set the precedent. Set a precedent like that and their current data becomes less effective as the travel bloggers and their readers would immediately try to take advantage of booking popular flights in hopes of getting the big payout – hell, some do it now for hopes of $1000.

    The naivete of people around business and politics never ceases to amaze me. 1)congress will make no material changes and I don’t want them to – the changes asked for here just increase the overall price for the rest of us. 2)UAL and others will continue to handle things in the manner they think will benefit them best financially in the long run – not based on a single rare occurrence (stock is only slightly lower since it happened). 3)Social media is great for boycotting claims and pics of shredding a credit card but they mean virtually nothing as very few people will actually change their buying habits because of this and will continue to take the most convenient/economical flight. When AAL, DAL and LUV make you mad are you going to start taking the bus? Have at it. Personally, I have no problem with what the officers did. The man had been asked politely several times. I’m sick of people deciding they don’t need to obey the law because it hurts their feelings.

  12. @Miguel – this situation is nothing like flying an airline that crashes more often than it should. Same Aviation Officers would have arrived whether called by United or American.

  13. The following quote from Gary’s post is mendacious claptrap and taints the entire argument:

    “As long as the government caps the amount the airline has to pay, at the same time limiting customers’ ability to sue airlines for most anything beyond explicit breaches of their contracts of carriage, we aren’t likely to see more compensation.”

    Everyone knows those regulations exist as the result of industry lobbying. This is not a “government cap” imposed on the airlines, it’s an industry cap imposed on passengers through the agency of the government. Indeed, all laws and regulations that cover involuntary denied boarding are an industry-sponsored attempt to use government to exempt the industry from the norms of regular business practice. If these regulations were not in place, each denied passenger could individually sue the airline for failure to deliver the agreed upon service in the agreed upon manner at the agreed upon time.

    This notion of an evil government somehow forcing the airlines to oversell their capacity, and somehow imposing a cap on their liability for doing so, is transparent nonsense. One might reasonably argue that these regulations provide a net benefit to fliers at large as they allow the airlines to operate at a lower per-passenger fare if they don’t have to worry about flying out with a few seats empty. But make no mistake — this is industry’s doing and these regulations are intended to benefit the entities that, through money and influence, arranged for them to come into existence — they benefit the airlines.

    Why not call for all laws and regulations covering overbooking to be eliminated and leave these situations up to regular contract law and the courts?

  14. @ Bill – Ok, but that’s your opinion. What matters is the opinion of millions of flyers, and whether it will make a collective impact.

    What I’m saying is that you may be right, but what matters is the popular perception of the flying public, and whether it affects millions of individual decisions. We’ll see how it plays out.

  15. Gary, I don’t get the overbooking argument, particularly this:

    “An airline could, of course, refuse to overbook as a matter of policy. This would result in flying planes that were substantially less full, on average, without meaningfully reducing operating costs. Ticket prices would need to be higher as a result. No airline has seen this as a winning strategy in the marketplace, and regulators haven’t tried to impose it on them.”

    If I run an airplane with 100 seats, and I have 100 seats sold and taken, and each seat cost $10, then my revenue for that flight would be $1000. If 10 people do not show up, my revenue is still $1000, assuming that ticket is non-refundable. Yes, if I overbook by 5 seats, I would end up with $50 more, but if all 105 ticket holders show up, then I would have to resort to some kind of methodology to kick 5 paying customers off the plane.

    I especially do not get this statement “No airline has seen this as a winning strategy in the marketplace” – which I assume ‘this’ refers to policy of no overbooking. How can that be not a winning strategy? It is a strategy where the airline mitigate inconveniencing their customers. Why is that bad? If an airline states that explicitly, I would think that such airline would attract more customers.

  16. @LarryInNYC — these rules become an effective cap when the government makes it so tough to sue an airline, the airline just isn’t on the hook for more than DOT says, so regardless of where the rules come from it’s the de facto max. I argue regularly that the government gives way too much protection to airlines to the detriment of consumers.

  17. Really baffled that you think its unrealistic that an airline would ever pay more than the statutory minimum for an involuntary bump. Businesses go beyond the bare minimum the law requires all the time in order to make sure customers are happy, or to compensate them for a mistake the business has made. And the alternative, canceling the flight, would cost WAAAAAAY more than a few hundred extra bucks. You are saying that Airlines can be expected to act self-destructively and irrationally unless we change the laws to require them to use what everywhere else would be considered common business sense!

  18. A ban on overselling probably wouldn’t raise prices AT ALL.

    Australia is the same size as the continental USA and has 2 legacy and 2 LCC carriers, which are forbidden by law from over-selling.

    But the fact that 2 or 3 seats may go out empty BUT SOLD on each flight gives them the capacity to handle deadheading crew or rebooking missed connections.

    The US business and regulatory model basically allows airlines to resell what they have already sold without being charged for the act of fraud – and potential theft – that such an action actually is.

  19. @Gary —> You continue to confuse me on one very specific point: Which is accurate?

    1) “Since the airline isn’t required to pay more than 4 times the one way fare, capped at $1350…”; or, 2) “As long as the government caps the amount the airline has to pay….”

    Does the government officially and through regulations caps the amount an airline CAN legally pay in compensation for IDB to no more than 4x the one-way fare, with a maximum amount of $1,350 (which would be “2” above), or does the government say that an airline is legally required to pay up to 4x the one-way fare, but anything above and beyond that amount is up to the discretion of the individual carrier (which would be “1” above)? In fact these two things are very very different. In #1, the government is setting a regulatory limit — “you are required to offer some sort of compensation, at least up to 4x the price of a one-way ticket, or $1,350, but if you want to offer more, that’s up to you” — while in the second example, the government is saying, “Under NO circumstances may you offer more than 4x or $1,350, no exceptions.”

    (You really need a proofreader.)

  20. @Jason Brandt Lewis – the government does not FORBID an airline compensating a passenger at a higher amount, they cap the airline’s liability. The most airline HAS TO PAY is four times the one way fare, but even then never more than $1350. If they wanted they could pay more.

  21. So many things wrong with the way this story has been reported, misconstrued with the passenger(s) mistreated and maligned.

    This was not denied boarding (could’ve been before boarding), this was a passenger forcibly removed without reasonable cause. An airline doesn’t just get to choose who can fly or not, without a rational basis for the decision.

    Agents generally want to be helpful, but lack the tools to assist. United agents continue working with an antiquated and restrictive reservations and operations systems. In other cases, agents response are severely limited by corporate policies. Passengers find themselves treated worse then must ride cargo.

    Some United agents have been at war with the passengers since the merger. These agents. who at the first hint of disagreement, indicate that airport authorities will be called. Passengers are routinely mistreated without recourse and without the ability to voice their complaint.

    United has continued to “enhance” their systems for effective revenue raising, often with disastrous passenger service. Seems that all United responsibility ceases after they have collected your money.

    Sadly and unfortunately, United is not alone with negative passenger treatment, one flies the US major airlines today hoping for an uneventful journey.

  22. @ Bill in America except for it’s 30% ruinous ignorant rednecks who gave us Bush and Trump, patriotism means questioning authority. Everything about our system, popular culture, world esteem, etc is that we don’t do what Fat Redneck Bill says to obey police if they have no business taking away our property. We resist, we protest, we change laws. That’s been the way it is since 1776 and except for the 1/3 we’re stuck with who are the stupidest people on the planet, so stupid they don’t even know their own economic interests, that’s the way it is going to stay and get better. Because an entire generation that insisted in the 90% on racial equality, gay marriage, etc. is coming up now and they’re not having you or any of the authoritarian bullies much longer. A major American corporation has been brought to it’s knees, a know-nothing President rendered completely impotent with no power by a 33% approval rating going lower to soon remove him. This is something you can only rail against since you have nothing to do with the future at all if you’re spouting unAmerican crap like “obey the police” wrongly taking your property. A billion dollars in lost American stock value backs my position. A bunch of fat rednecks down at the Sam’s Club back yours.

  23. This was not denied boarding. Passengers were boarded on the flight.

    This was forcible removal.

    Passengers may be removed from a flight for reasons per United per c o c.

    Accommodation of United must ride passengers is not listed as a reason for removal.

  24. This was not a case of denied boarding.

    The passenger was removed from the flight to accommodate United must ride crew members. The problem and the extremely poor solution arose because it happened after the flight was boarded.

    Airlines routinely overbook, selling more seats than exist on the aircraft. Problems do not arise until more passengers show up then can be accommodated

    In the case where a flight is oversold (more passengers than seats) United is not limited by the government in how much they can offer to secure volunteers to give up their seats for others.

    In the case of involuntary denied boarding (not enough volunteers) carriers are required to pay up to a certain amount only for the delay in getting the passenger to the destination.

    United needs to revamp how they solicit volunteers to make the programs more functional.

  25. Gary, here are my thoughts:
    1. Jetblue has a policy of not overbooking flights and they seem to do fine and are generally competitive with airfares. Why would it be problematic for other carriers to operate the same way? (Note: I realize that they have to bump passengers sometimes because of changes in aircraft and that the incident was not because of overbooking).

    2. Regarding your mention of passengers having the ability to cancel–my issue is that most carriers have change fees when tickets are purchased at advance purchase prices. Southwest is an exception and seems to be doing fine. I know many that prefer Southwest specifically for the reason of there not being any change fee. How is it even when the passenger does not have the ability to make changes without paying a significant fee, which is often higher than the value of the ticket, when the airline is allowed to cancel flights, deny boarding, etc. without a good reason?

    3. I see a lot of the problem being the airline lacking a culture to empower employees to think creatively. Lucky’s site did a great job of describing how following Continental’s takeover of United, staff lost the ability to provide higher compensation amounts easily and do other things that went away from following regular procedures when things went wrong. It seems that empowering and encouraging staff to think creatively and to try new ways to solve problems would be helpful.

    Southwest airlines overall seems to have this as a part of their culture, and regular staff is known to exercise a lot of discretion. Their magazine tends to feature staff who act in ways outside of normal procedures to aid customers. It seems that thinking outside of the box could have resolved this situation (although the expression hindsight is 20/20 applies here). For example, a gate agent could have perhaps offered paying for an Uber to Louisville in addition to compensation and a ticket refund.

  26. I see a huge, huge difference between an IDB and telling someone who has already boarded that someone who is more important has arrived late and they will have to deboard and give up their seat. Boarding an airplane should be an irrevocable process. Note that not allowing airlines to bump passengers once they have boarded (save for safety reasons) would not affect 95 percent of IDBs.

    Changing the subject slightly, but my wife was upgraded to first once. Just before the plane pushed away from the gate she was “downgraded” to coach. Of course, she ended up in a middle seat next to Jabba the Hut. It’s just not right.

    Also, I question your claim that United offered $1,300 in cash compensation to the travelers as the law requires. I think they offered $800 in vouchers, in violation of the law. If they had followed the law and offered the $1,300 IN CASH, I think it highly likely they would have had volunteers.

  27. Gary,

    You claim “But if it comes up again, a passenger is asked to leave the plane, and they don’t… the airline is likely to simply cancel the flight.” – why would that be? Again, assuming that there are no disruptive passengers, etc, why would United choose to take everyone off the plane and have to accommodate them on future flights, exasperating their problem? It’s certainly not the cost minimization strategy.

    I assume if United did not resort to force, then Fl 3411 would have taken off with Mr Dao still in his seat, and they would have had to find another solution for the 4 crew who showed up after boarding. Same as what would have happened if that replacement crew showed up 10 minutes later, after Fl 3411 had left the gate.

    And sure, there is potentially a greater inconvenience, because a bunch of passengers in Louisville have to be accommodated the next morning. But that really is because of United operations scheduling problems, not Mr Dao’s fault.

  28. Gary, you were wrong before with the rule against imprisoning people on the tarmac http://viewfromthewing.com/2010/07/10/department-of-totally-obvious-unintended-consequences/

    Guess what: airlines are smart and developed effective plans. In this particular circumstances, if they had been faced with a regulation that had teeth (instead of the inexpensive IDB limits) they probably would have Ubered to Rochester either the crew or the volunteers.

    No, there’s no nightmare scenario here. Sorry. United and the U.S. Government here are 100% at fault. United for doing what it did (which it will do again — there’s no doubt the CEO thought it was proper, and started lying about his feeling only when the PR department told him to), and the DOT for completely failing Americans.

  29. @Jake – your argument is you think I was wrong about something 7 years ago so I am wrong about something different now?

    In fact according to the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, the tarmac delay rule spiked up cancellations for the first 3 years of the rule and not the 4th and they haven’t looked at data beyond that.

    As of 2015 the best understanding was: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-tarmac-delays-0105-biz-20160104-story.html
    “Dartmouth College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found the tarmac delay rule increased flight cancellations and ultimately the time it takes for passengers to reach their destinations.

    “We found that for every minute of tarmac time being saved there is, on average, a three-minute increase in the total passenger delay,” said Vikrant Vaze, an assistant professor at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering who co-authored the study.”

    Then when DOT IG looked at it (https://www.oig.dot.gov/sites/default/files/DOT%20Tarmac%20Delay%20Rule%20Final%20Audit%5E10-26-16.pdf) they found:

    “The Tarmac Delay Rule (TDR) increased cancellation rates during the first 3 years
    following its implementation (May 2010–April 2013).11 After that, the TDR did
    not increase cancellation rates, and cancellation rates behaved as if the TDR had
    never been imposed—at least through December 2014, which was the end of our
    period of analysis”

  30. I don’t agree with your assessment that the airlines will just cancel the entire flight. There is a much simpler way to solve the problem. Do not EVER try to remove someone from the airplane once they have occupied a seat. If the United crew was so stupid (or their manager was) to not call the gate when they were notified to report, and left them to get to the gate and demand transport after boarding, then they should have been “denied boarding” and told that the United manager would have to come up with option B. THEY could have been put on a UBER ride (and slept in the car).

  31. One thing about overbooking is that on UA, like most US airlines, “nonrefundable” tickets still allow you to cancel and get a credit valid for a year for the full amount against any future flight less a cancellation fee, usually around 200. So people still cancel at the last minute and except on cheap tickets a reasonable amount of their money back. For most EU airlines, a nonrefundable ticket they sell is really is that. You may be able to change it, but only if it is between the same cities and you rebook it before the date you would have flown, and at the same fare class or higher, and for a change fee. I’ve had to eat thousands of dollars due to that rule, and that is one of the reasons I will often try to book those airlines on US airline ticket stock even if it is more expensive than buying directly from them. Imagine if YA, AA, DL or Southwest did that!

  32. By the way, I noticed a comment that Qantas does not allow overbooking and that works just fine. But I checked, and Qantas, like many non-US airlines, requires you re-book the ticket between the same two cities and the new flights be booked 24 hours before you would otherwise fly. When people in the US say “stop overbooking”, is that what they really want?

  33. @Repairman Jack —> “THEY [the replacement flight crew] could have been put on a UBER ride (and slept in the car).”

    Not if their work rules, union contract, and/or company’s policies and procedures forbids it. Now, I don’t know if it does or doesn’t, and that is just ONE of the things we don’t know . . . .

  34. @DavidF airfares are pretty expensive in Australia even w/ ULCC’s compared to most of the US.

    @Daniel B6 doesnt oversell flights but they had the second highest IDB rate in the county in 2016.


    In my own feeble way to try to decrease the vitriol and emotions overall — i.e.: feel free to ignore this post if you wish — there are several “sticking points” that I see people getting hung up on which sidetracks the discussion. Largely these bold down to little more than semantics, in most cases.

    “Involuntarily Denied Boarding” (IDB) — Many people get irate, shouting that it couldn’t have been a case of IDB; after all, the man had already boarded. Semantics. Whether someone is prevented from getting on the aircraft, or has to leave his seat and depart the aircraft, he’s been “bumped” and that’s classified as IDB. Sorry, that’s what it’s called, and no matter how much some of you want to protest, you’re shouting over semantics and it’s a waste of time.

    “Overbooking” — Can’t we all agree by now that the flight was sold out but NOT overbooked?

    Whether the gentleman in question was a brilliant neurosurgeon or a scumbag pill-pushing doctor, can’t we all agree that NO ONE should be dragged off a plane that way under these circumstances? I mean, the man wasn’t a terrorist with a bomb in his shoe, or in his underwear; he was in the end simply a passenger trying to get home.

    Furthermore, while I personally believe that some exceptions must be made for who can be involuntarily denied boarding (e.g.: active military, first responders, and select professions), the fact is no such exemptions exist either in law or in regulations. ANYONE who refuses to comply with a lawfully issued order from police¹ is putting themselves in harm’s way. People have been, sadly, shot and killed for less. There is no doubt in my mind this was “use of excessive force” (though it has yet to be proven *legally* either through an internal investigation or a court of law).

    And finally, there is a difference between perception and reality. In reality, the “police officers” involved were not members of the Chicago Police Department. Neither were they really police. The Chicago Department of Aviation describes them as Aviation Security Officers. They are unarmed. They do NOT have the power to arrest. Clearly it was these security officers that used excessive force on the passenger, NOT United/United Express/Republic Airlines employees.

    HOWEVER, perception has a way of becoming reality, and United Airlines (not Republic) is the public “face” of this fiasco, and would have received the blame regardless. The fact that Oscar Muñoz f’d it up so badly — and did so repeatedly; so much so that no one takes his apology seriously — only enshrines United as the responsible party here.

    @Gary —> You may indeed be technically correct that United — while not 100% blameless — bears little *actual* responsibility. But it’s a losing proposition. (Re-read the paragraph immediately preceding this one.) They ARE, in the minds of nearly everyone on the planet with access to the internet of a television, at fault.

    ¹ Let us set aside for the moment the fact that these were not law enforcement officers, but “security officers.”

  36. @ retired lawyer: that’s the question I have had all along. United had already been paid by the passenger (I don’t care that he was a doctor, every single passenger obviously had a justified reason for wanting that particular flight because only three agreed to leave). So why does an airline get to kick off a passenger and not compensate him/her for doing such? Same with overbooking. If an airline overbooks say even one person and that person doesn’t show, the airline has made an extra couple of bucks. Plus, a change fee if that person ever gets around to using that ticket.

  37. Maybe I am being stupid or naive in my old age, but surely any passenger that fails to show up for a flight, has paid in advance and will either loose their money or at best reclaim it via their travel insurance. If that’s the case, then why do the airlines overbook as it would appear that even if they have a number of ‘no shows’ It will not impact on them financially?

  38. Underneath it all, overbooking is just a bad — even evil — business model. Can you imagine Broadway theaters “overbooking” performances of Hamilton because ticket holders get sick or miss their transportation and seats are empty, or removing patrons already seated because the family of the producers showed up unexpectedly? Not gonna’ happen. If you read the articles on the internet, it is clear that airlines overbook to increase profits and do it just because it is allowed. Then can sell 120% of the seats on a plane knowing that some will be forfeited, and if the computers guess right they pocket 120% of the revenue from that flight; if wrong they have capped what they are legally required to pay back, so they make a profit either way. Please don’t tell me they “need” to do this or fares would skyrocket. They are guaranteed some income from last minute ticket changers (except for Southwest, which seems to do quite well allowing last second changes) and could theoretically raise the change fees if that is needed to cover any losses. Here the system bit them on the nose, but it should be a wake up call that overbooking is just gross misuse of market capitalism at its worst, akin to selling 150% of ownership interests in a phony gold mine. Denied boarding should be restricted to situations where there is a legitimate non-monetary cause: weather-forced delays or cancellations, aircraft breakdowns or other events requiring substitution of larger airplanes with smaller craft (which is what happened to JetBlue which does not overbook but didn’t have enough A321s and had to sub in smaller A320s), or other events generally beyond the control of management. Overbooking, on the other hand, is a very deliberate management process guaranteed to cause grief to at least some passengers no matter the compensation levels. It should be abolished.

  39. Lol. Canceling more flights at whims, because United now does not want to pay 1 or 2 customers for overbooking? You must be mad.

    If so, United should just stay grounded. Lol.

    They dragged a customer but they will not cancel the entire flight because they do not want to pay money to a few customers due to overbooking.

    It will just cause mayhem if they to it for all their flights, and they should just quit flying if so.

  40. I’ve realized you are constantly a corporate apologist.

    1, the reason why UA didn’t go above $800, because now legally they didn’t have to, and it was cheaper for them to call police to remove him.

    2. Airlines realized that it is not cheaper to call police, so they will continue to raise voucher until they’ll get a volunteer. It can go as high as $10k. As long as they can make money, they will.

    3. If a passenger misses a flight, they do not get full refund, unless they’ve paid that fare (rare). So why do they need to overbook? Overbooking is bad, but passengers have been screwed so much, we don’t even stand up for some decency anymore. Thanks 9-11/Bush/TSA/etc. here for this. Our culture is f**ked up.

  41. OK. I look at the airlines overbooking much like a casino game. If they overbook by 10, they can pick up about $2000 @$200 per ticket. However, when gambling, you don’t always win. Don’t ban overbooking. Just make the penalty for IDB so high (I.E.$5-10,000, which would equate to 25-50 tickets) that the airlines will be able to overbook, but will also know that there is a big downside for miscalculations.

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