“I never understood how overbooking is legal. (I know this wasn’t really an overbooking incident, and I know about the no-show excuse. But if you buy tickets for a cinema, or a theatre, or book a place in a restaurant, or whatever, they never tell you “Sorry, but we gave your place to someone else. Here’s a cookie.”)”
— Myself in a Facebook comment, 12th April 2017
The recent incident where a passenger was violently removed from a United flight to make room for United employees reopened an old argument about overbookings on flights. While this wasn’t in itself an overbooking incident (even though some airlines like to treat “overbooking” as an umbrella term encompassing even incidents like this), it reminded me of the intentional practice of overbooking, which is not just a desperate measure by abysmal airlines like Air Malta, but indeed a blight that plagues the greater majority of the airline industry.
Image credit: here
It is well-known that most airlines intentionally allow their flights to be overbooked due to statistics that state that on average, some 10-15% of booked seats result in no-shows. The excuse is that the seat left empty could instead be used to transport a passenger who does show up. This is obviously a slap in the face of the people who, conversely, do show up for their seat and are denied boarding because the flight was overbooked, and offered measly compensation for it.
If you make a booking at a restaurant, cinema, theatre, etc, they never tell you “Sorry, but we gave your place to someone else. Here’s a cookie.” You booked a place, and they are supposed to respect it. Of course, you might not show up, and that’s a risk on them.
But in the case of flights, you pay for them in advance. Whether you show up or not, you actually paid for that seat. It’s yours. How is it even legal to sell that same seat a second time to someone else? It’s like selling the same item at a store to two different people, have both pay for it, expect the losing party to actually ask for his money back (and keep it if they don’t), and let them just live with the disappointment.
I am really furious not only that airlines carry out this sleazy practice, but also that the authorities allow it to happen. Even worse, the compensation (at least here in Europe) is pathetic. It barely makes up for lost time at work, and has absolutely no consideration about stress and hassles that take place as a result, including the eventuality of having to cancel holiday plans, miss connecting flights, and run after airlines for compensation. As I had already noted in my article about when Air Malta left us stranded, not only is the compensation not enough disincentive to leave passengers at the airport, but it actually makes it worth the risk for the airlines.
I’m sorry, but you just cannot justify this sort of gross mistreatment of customers by quoting passenger statistics and airline profits.