Recently, one of the most talked about events in air travel was the video of a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight due to overbooking. In the 25 years I have been in the industry I have never seen anything quite like this.
Although overbooking is a common occurrence among most airlines this case took things to the extreme. The violent removal of the unwilling traveller was recorded by fellow passengers for the world to see. This event has shone a light on overbooking and caused travellers to question what their rights are once they pay for their air ticket.
Most airlines expect a certain number of no-shows on each flight and routinely overbook flights to maximize capacity. This practice has been taking place since I started in the industry and for monetary reasons I doubt that it is ever going to change.
What many people don't realize is that airlines have the right to "involuntarily bump" passengers when they need to as long as they compensate the passenger. This is stated in each airlines "tariff" or terms and conditions which is essentially your contract with the airline. Airlines can bump passengers at any point in the travel process -- at check-in, at the gate or once passengers have actually boarded the aircraft like in the United Airlines incident.
In the U.S. and EU there are Passenger Bills of Rights that clearly state a set minimum amount of monetary compensation that airlines must give to "involuntarily bumped" passengers. In Canada, the amount is left up to the individual airlines. However, the Canadian government is planning to introduce legislation specifically dedicated to airline bumping and it is expected that minimum compensation amounts will be included in that Passenger Bill of Rights. This recent event with United Airlines could help fast track this legislation which would definitely benefit Canadian travellers in the future.
This entire situation with United Airlines could have been avoided if staff members handled this prior to anyone boarding the aircraft.
The passengers who are most likely to get bumped are those who have bought the cheapest fares, booked tickets on points or who are last to check in. Essentially there are various reasons you could be selected. To lower your chances of being bumped I recommend that you get a specific seat assignment when you book your flight and that you check-in as early as possible.
This entire situation with United Airlines could have been avoided if staff members handled this prior to anyone boarding the aircraft. Typically when this is dealt with beforehand the airline will ask for volunteers well before boarding and increase the compensation amount if no one comes forward. Frankly, offering an $800 voucher to already seated passengers was too little, too late.
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