Airline bulls***

Photo on 2009-12-22 at 17.11 #2

I arrived at Laguardia Airport yesterday for my flight to Palm Beach Gardens. I’d booked my ticket months ago. Walk up to the Northwest counter, am told I don’t have a seat.

“Don’t have a seat?” I said.

“The flight’s been oversold,” I was told. “We might have to bump you for tomorrow morning. But you’d be able to fly first class.”

I was calm. I was cool. But inside, I was neither calm nor cool. I was pissed. Can someone here please, please, please explain to me why airlines are allowed to oversell their flights? It makes absolutely no sense; is a true abuse of the paying customer. Imagine making a dinner reservation, then showing up at the restaurant and being told that someone else got your table. Imagine booking a hotel for a week, then hearing, “Unfortunately, we overbooked the Hyatt tonight. But we can put you up at the Motel 6 for tonight, then bring you in tomorrow.”

Someone once said to me, “Well, the airlines worry about people not showing up, so they sell extra seats.” I call bulls***. Why does the airline get the upper-hand here? Why is the business allowed to screw the company? And heaven forbid I decide I want to cancel my already-paid-for ticket. There’s a $100 penalty here, a $50 penalty there.

Just infuriating.

I love to travel; love getting out of my Cosi corner and seeing the world.

But this is just wrong.

PS: The worst part—I feel terrible for the poor employees working behind the desk. The blond woman above is one of the nicest, most accommodating people I’ve ever met. In the center of a tornado, she was calm, cool, pleasant. And she found me a spot!

13 thoughts on “Airline bulls***”

  1. “Unfortunately, we overbooked the Hyatt tonight. But we can put you up at the Motel 6 for tonight, then bring you in tomorrow.”

    Actually, hotels do that too. When you send someone to the other hotel (for which your hotel foots the bill), that’s called “walking” the guest. I was a hotel guest clerk for a year, and I had to do that twice–it was the absolute worst thing I ever had to do there. One person was cool with it, the other read me the riot act, but there was nothing I could do.

    Making it worse is that it’s usually 11 PM or later, because it’s your last guest to show up who gets walked.

  2. Yep. Happened to us at a hotel too. The night of my brother-in-law’s wedding. I went ballistic. The best man and his wife were shut out of the hotel. How nice is that?

    Fortunately (for us, anyway), another couple at the wedding got into an argument and decided to check out so we ended up with a room after all.

    Before that night I’d never heard of anything so ridiculous either. Overbooking a hotel? Horrible.

  3. Yeah, I really don’t get it. Who cares if the passengers don’t show up? They have already paid for their ticket which is non-refundable.

  4. While in most cases the seat may be paid for (not all tickets are non-refundable BTW), an airline can maximize the revenue for the flight by ensuring that ALL seats are filled with paying passengers. It’s a gamble airlines take and each individual flight is allowed a different amount of oversales based on a variety of factors. These factors include the route, time of day, time of year, and historical no-show factor. For instance a flight between New York and Chicago which is business-traveler heavy usually allows for more oversales because business travelers tend to change flights and/or miss flights more frequently than the average traveler. A flight from New York to Orlando would have a lower oversell allowance because leisure travelers are typically good about showing up for their flight. Airlines have entire departments (usually called Revenue Management) that track these trends and decide how much an airline can oversell a flight by.

    Basically airlines are trying to maximize the amount of profit they can get out of a finite resource (i.e. available seats). It usually works well until the time when everyone shows up and there aren’t enough seats for everyone, in which case they start bribing volunteers to give up their seat or just deny you boarding (not something they like to do).

    Operating an airline flight is expensive as hell, and given the cheap fares airlines have to charge to stay competitive (because there are too many airlines), they have a hard time making a profit on their flights. That’s how you end up with this practice. As well as others like charging for checked bags, getting rid of meals, change fees and all the other nickel and dime bullshit the airlines do nowadays. It sucks, but hate the game not the player as they say. If we all paid $200 more a ticket a lot of this stuff would go away, but who wants to do that?

  5. Dude, read a real writer like Posnanski or Peter King and you’ll learn two things 1.) how to get your facts straight and write better 2.) that hotels do that all the time.

  6. Here are a few ways airlines could reduce the number of irate customers that the practice of overselling produces. (Some of these, I know, have been experimented with already.)

    1) At the time of purchase (often weeks/months in advance), ask the customer how flexible they are about being bumped to another flight. Some people may not mind it as much as others. Heck, some might even relish the chance to fly first class, if that’s what’s offered to people who are bumped.

    2) For those who absolutely, positively, no-way-around-it must be on a particular flight, ask (at the time of purchase) whether they’d be willing to make a refundable bid for a seat. If there are enough seats for everyone, or if they get bumped because their bid wasn’t high enough, they get their money back.

    3) Be more transparent about your overselling. For instance, allow ticket-holders to check online and see how many seats have been sold beyond the maximum capacity. Perhaps if a customer has a few days’ notice that the flight is overbooked, and he knows that he won’t arrive at the gate until the last minute, he will be more prepared to meet his fate, or more likely to preemptively switch to a different flight.

    4) Make it much more clear during the reservation process that merely having a ticket does not guarantee that you won’t be bumped. People tend to deal with these inconveniences better when they’re not first made aware of them as they’re standing at the gate with their luggage in hand.

  7. This is karma for all those inaccurate articles about the Pirates. Go kick another organization while they are down…like the Cubs or Royals. Just beware of fact checkers. Better yet, you could hire some with your SI paycheck.

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