Remember when you thought being limited to only 2oz of your moisturizer was bad? Well it seems as though flying has become more complicated than ever, chock full of travel bans, device bans—and weirdly enough, even leggings seem to have become controversial. The latest incident comes from United Airlines, where a Facebook video recently emerged showing a passenger being forcibly removed from a flight, not because he didn’t pay, was inebriated or was causing a scene, but because they simply needed the seat for their crew members. This begs the question: what are airlines hiding from us, and what can they get away with? Well, folks, I’ve uncovered four things that you may not know.
1. Bye, Felicia—The Airport Edition
If you’re like me, you may be waiting for a good ol’ fashioned American huge lawsuit from the man who paid for his ticket, was complying by the rules and still was aggressively removed from the flight. I hate to break this to you, but regardless of whether you think it’s ethical,technically airlines have the right to remove you from their flight, even if you paid fair and square. Generally speaking, they must make a good-faith effort first to offer incentives (e.g. vouchers, free hotel nights, etc.), but at the end of the day, they can go all “This is Sparta” on your ass and there’s nothing you can do about it.
2. Your Seat Could’ve Been Promised To Another Passenger
Ah, the sweet scent of capitalism. Just like any other business, airlines want to make as much profit as possible. One way they do this is by doing a bunch of fancy math (i.e. binomial distribution calculations) to try to predict how many people will not show up, so they can sell the seat to another traveler. However, even with their elegant probabilities, approximately 50,000 kicked off their flights due to this practice each year.
3. The Price Is Right (Well, Maybe)
The reality is, there are many classes of fares, and for any given flight there could be one or 100 prices available for the same seat. Yes, you read that right. Simply put, this means that two passengers sitting next to each other could’ve paid drastically different amounts, even hundreds more or less than the other for the same type of seat. Wow, my high school teacher was right—math is power. Just pray you’re the one with the better deal.
4. Seat Assignments Aren’t Necessarily Set In Stone
In addition to the practice of overbooking, airlines are also in the habit of blocking off 10-15 percent of the seats on their flights to give them more “wiggle room” as situations come up. I must say that this is far from a guarantee, but as the old adage goes, the worst they can say is no, right? Keep in mind that passengers with higher status will ultimately have more success here, but often times if the flight is not completely full, you may actually be able to get a better seat. All you have to do is ask the lovely men and women at the gate. I would especially recommend this if you have a legitimate concern, such as an overactive bladder or claustrophobia.
The moral of the story here is simple. Airlines have a lot of flexibility, whether it’s determining who can be on their flights and overbooking, to pricing and seat assignments.