You might think holding a ticket means you’re guaranteed a seat on a plane but think again.
The recent high profile case in the US where a passenger was forcibly removed from a plane highlighted in rather graphic fashion that travellers can be ‘bumped’ at any stage – even when buckled up in a seat!
So why does it happen and how can you avoid it happening to you?
It’s fairly standard practice for airlines to overbook seats. They do it based on sophisticated data modelling that predicts a number of factors.
Certain flight sectors and times will be overbooked for example as the airline’s historical data tells them when passengers are highly likely to change their flight at the last-minute (ie: business travellers running late/early), or, in many cases, just not show up at all.
Empty seats are of course lost revenue for the airlines and in this highly competitive industry, it’s a finely-tuned science to keep planes as full as possible.
When the modelling doesn’t get it right, occasionally, overbooking results in just that, more passengers than seats. This is when the ‘bumping’ occurs and it’s usually uneventful as it’s done on a voluntary basis in exchange for some form of compensation offered by the airline.
Sometimes, it’s not overbooking that causes the problem, weather or operational issues, for example, could mean airlines need to quickly transfer flight crews to another port to offset further disruption. If the crew don’t make it, a massive knock-on effect could impact hundreds of flights and thousands of people. Faced with this scenario, airlines have little choice but to remove paying passengers.
Every airline has its own ‘conditions of carriage' which means, in short, when you book a flight, you accept their terms and conditions along with any other rules that apply to the type of ticket you have purchased.
Here is where you can find the terms and conditions for travel on Australia’s major airlines.
How to avoid being bumped from a flight
Although not absolutely foolproof, there are certainly ways to help minimise the chances of losing your seat.
First, it helps to know your rights when an airline oversells a flight. If you are bumped, there are legal obligations airlines must meet.
Compensation varies between carriers and can range from a refund of your fare to accommodation, meals and transport. They may also offer other forms of compensation such as bonus frequent flyer points, upgrades or lounge access at their discretion.
Here are some important considerations before your next flight.
- Consider purchasing a full-fare economy ticket. Airlines are less likely to bump higher-fare-paying passengers
- Add your frequent flyer number to the booking. The last guest an airline wants to inconvenience is a loyal frequent flyer.
- Check in as early as possible. The last people to check-in are often the first to be bumped.
- Purchase an extra legroom seat. The more money you spend on the flight, the less likely you are to lose it.
- Purchase travel insurance to help with any out-of-pocket or additional expenses that are not covered by the airline bumping policy.
- Be courteous to the airport staff – remember it’s not their fault and they are doing their best to help you in a difficult situation.
How to lodge a complaint
If you have been bumped from a flight for any reason, your first point of contact should be with the airline direct. Each airline has an additional Customer Service department that handles complaints by email or phone and is able to investigate further.
If you don’t think you have been fairly compensated by the airline, you can also contact the Airline Customer Advocate for further assistance.
Published under license from Well Travelled.