Overbooking & Air Travel
We have all seen startling footage this summer on national TV of a passenger being forcibly removed from an American flight because of overbooking. Naturally the impact of overbooking is not usually this physical. But this does make you wonder if and why airlines over book?
Our research has revealed that most airlines overbook certain flights. We asked several of our carriers why they overbook and easyJet explained that around three million easyJet customers each year don’t show up for their flights and if these seats were left empty, it would force up prices for everyone else. BUT the passengers have already paid for their seats so why does it matter? Upon investigation this is because in the first instance revenue is reduced as the empty seat doesn’t buy on board refreshments. Airlines sell a proportion of certain seats on certain routes and flights at certain times more than once to ensure that revenue is earned in order to sustain the lower ticket prices many of us enjoy today.
easyJet said that ‘they get it right in around 97% of cases, meaning that many tens of thousands of customers who want to fly, get to do so. In only a very small proportion of cases – a tiny fraction of less than 1% – will a customer be denied boarding’ as a result of over booking. easyJet highlighted that very few passengers who do not intend to travel with them actually cancel their flights.
Some passengers may be denied boarding as there may also be occasions where, due to unforeseen circumstances such as disruption on an earlier flight operated, technical problems, etc., that the airline needs to make a change to the aircraft type which is operating a specific route. This might mean that a smaller aircraft is substituted than originally planned, which may lead to a shortage of seats.
How do airlines decide which routes and journey’s to overbook?
When overbooking a flight airlines target those flights with a consistent history of no-shows and then overbook them by a small number where they they can confidently predict everyone who wants to fly should be able to do so.
Flybe explained that they ‘carry 8-million passengers a year flying and on average operates some 520 flights a day. Like all other airlines, Flybe carefully manages each flight by employing in-depth statistical analysis to ensure that each departure is as commercially viable as possible. This is to ensure the lowest possible fares are always available to its customers whilst at the same time being confident there is only ever a very small risk that a passenger would be denied boarding. This is primarily employed on multi-frequency routes where historically it is shown there is a consistent percentage of no-shows’
What simple measures can the passenger take to reduce the risk of being denied boarding as a direct result of overbooking?
- In the first instance check in on line at the earliest opportunity; this confirms to the airline that you intend to travel as booked, so that airlines can more accurately understand whether they still have seats which are available for other customers who may not yet have made their reservations.
- If you are denied boarding as a result of overbooking – negotiate, without being greedy. Establish accommodation needs if appropriate, refreshment allowance. Also ask when the next available flight to your destination is due to depart by any airline not just by the one who has denied you boarding and request if you can be allocated a seat on this flight.
- Remain calm and reasonable
What does the EU Directive have to say on the matter?
In the rare cases where a passenger may be offloaded, airlines should take their responsibilities very seriously, fully understanding how frustrating and inconvenient the situation is.
Compensation must be paid in line with EU261 – typically within 5 working days – as well as dealing with their immediate requirements at the airport. The Consumer Council have published a Plane Facts guide to help navigate you through your rights when flying
The booklet details the ‘Denied boarding’ process;
When an airline has overbooked a flight they must first ask for volunteers to give up their seats before passengers are denied boarding.
If you volunteer to give up your seat:
- You must be provided with compensation, either cash or airline vouchers. The level of compensation must be agreed with you.
- If you decide to continue your journey, the airline must also book you onto an alternative flight. If the airline cannot fly you to your intended airport, it is allowed to fly you to another airport within the same region. The airline must then transfer you to either your intended airport or a close by location agreed with you.
- If you decide not to continue your journey the airline must refund your ticket and give you a flight back to the original point of departure if relevant. Refunds should be provided by the airline within seven days. If an insufficient number of passengers volunteer to give up their seats, the airline will deny boarding to a number of passengers
If the airline denies you boarding:
- You are entitled to immediate compensation. (Please see table 2 on page 20 for compensation rates in Plane Facts).
- You are also entitled to the same option of a refund or alternative travel arrangements offered to passengers who volunteer to give up their seats.
- If the airline cannot fly you to your intended airport, it is allowed to fly you to another airport within the same region. The airline must then transfer you to either your intended airport or a close by location, agreed with you.
Compensation and assistance will not be provided to passengers who are denied boarding because they are deemed unfit to travel by the airline, for example if you are intoxicated, or abusive etc.
Airlines regularly review their overbooking methodology to make it more accurate and do everything we can to minimise the number of people who are affected, whilst optimising the yield from the fare levels at which they sell.