Should overbooking on airlines be illegal?

Should overbooking on airlines be illegal?

The recent United Airlines incident without a doubt is the manifestation of customer service at its worst.

The scene of a screaming, bleeding man being forcefully dragged out of his airplane seat and down the aisle like a piece of old cloth has ignited public outrage all over social media.

Such repulsive act also makes us question the practice of overbooking in the airline industry.

What is overbooking?

To avoid the cost of empty seats, some airlines sell more seats than they have under the assumption that there is a portion of passengers that won’t show up for their flights.

Overbooking is deemed a perfectly normal and legal practice to ensure an airline’s revenue is maximized. It also helps keep the fares down, which is especially beneficial for people who buy their tickets at last minutes.

What if a flight is actually overbooked?

If overbooking occurs, the airline has to ask for volunteers who are willing to take the next flight in exchange for some form of compensation.

Compensation will initially be travel vouchers that can be redeemed later. If there’s no interest, a couple of hundred dollars in cash will be offered. Depending on the length of the delay, the compensation amount will change accordingly.

If there’s no volunteer, some airlines would randomly choose passengers to give up their seats. But if there are not enough volunteers, it’s the airline’s responsibility to cover the financial expenses for passengers who forgo their seats involuntarily.

Should overbooking be banned?

As frustrating as it is, overbooking is not some secret practice. Its underlying reason is to make sure that each seat generates the most possible amount of profit. The use of historical data to predict the number of people who are likely to miss a flight has been going on for years. Not to mention, passengers get to enjoy the low fares.

So perhaps it all boils down to how poorly and insensitively the customer service team at United Airline was handling the situation. Such arrangement should be taken care of before the plane is boarded.

Let’s hope that this incident would serve as a wake up call to players in the airline industry to ensure that such horrifying mistake won’t happen again. 

Photo credit: Creative Commons.

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