Why Airlines Sell More Seats Than They Have – Imagine that you’ve bought plane tickets, say, half a year before the flight. You count down the days before the trip, pack a suitcase, and take a taxi to the airport. There’s a traffic jam on the way, so you don’t get there early enough to be first at the check-in desk.
And yet you’re on time, so you give your passport to the employee and…You hear that check-in is closed, and there are no free seats left on the plane. Have you ever found yourself in an overbooking situation?It can throw you off balance all right. But don’t worry, I’ll let you know why it occurs, and what to do in case it happens to you.
Overbooking means that there are more passengers checked in for flight than seats on board the plane. It sounds crazy, but airlines usually sell more tickets than there are seats available on the plane on purpose. That means that having a ticket doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll be able to fly to your destination.
So how can you get the best of the situation?Well, for starters, why on Earth would they sell more tickets than seats? The thing is that some passengers can buy tickets at an economical price, so they’re not that worried about it if they have to cancel for some personal reason, despite the fact that the tickets are non-refundable.
Someone might get sick, or change the dates of the trip. It’s also common for a two-way ticket to be cheaper than a one-way ticket. As a result, the passenger will buy a two-way ticket for the price, but not show up for the return flight. To make up for the inevitable lost passengers, a lot of airlines use overbooking.
They sell more tickets than available seats just to be on a safe side, and ensure the seats will be filled somehow. As a result, you might find yourself standing in front of a check-in desk among other would-be passengers, whose number is bigger than the plane can accommodate. And if someone needs to buy a last-minute ticket right before the flight, and is willing to pay the price, he’ll likely get it, even if all the tickets are sold out.
The airline will sell the ticket at the most expensive rate and wait to see if there are no-shows for the flight. The airline staff can try to find volunteers who’ll agree to wait for the next flight in exchange for different perks. But if there are none, the passengers who were the last to check in won’t be allowed to board.
Sometimes overbooking happens because of uncontrollable major circumstances. If the plane that had to perform the flight breaks down, the company will have to use a different one, which could be smaller, like 210 seats instead of 250. The “extra” passengers will have to stay on the ground. Or, come to think of it, they could try to duct tape the extra passengers to the wings and hope for the best, but their baggage would still have to stay behind.
Actually just kidding on that one. In this case of a smaller aircraft than planned, there are even more affected people, and more of a mess. One can spend a lot of hours sitting on suitcases waiting for the staff to solve the problem. And yet, if you’re the one left behind, you should stand up for your rights.
Record all the cases when your rights were infringed. The carriers shouldn’t get away with overbooking, and have a responsibility to their clients. If you don’t get on board, then they’ve not provided the service you paid for, which entitles you to compensation. The sum of which depends on how long you have to stay in the airport waiting for the next flight, and also on the distance to the destination.
Here’s what you need to know about refunds in the US:If you must wait in the airport for less than 1 hour, there’ll be no compensation, bothif you fly within the country or abroad. If you wait for 2 hours or less, you’re entitled to 200% of your one-way fare to your final destination . If you wait 2-4 hours, you should get 400% of your one-way fare to your destination on domestic flights.
On international flights it’ll be 200% of your one-way fare again. When you must wait for more than 4 hours, you should be paid 400% of your one-way fare to your final destination on both domestic and international flights. The rules are a bit different for airlines registered in the EU:The compensation for shorter flights would be about $140 to $275, depending on the distance.
For longer distances, the reimbursement would range from $220 to $445. For flights of more than 2175 miles, it would be anywhere from be $330 to $665. In the case of a downgrade, you can count on 25% of the ticket’s cost for shorterflights within the EU, 50% for longer flights, and 75% for flights of more than 2175 miles.
And, just to let you know, the airline still needs to deliver you to your destination with the next available flight. You could also just claim the money for the ticket, or go back to the starting point of your trip if it’s a connecting flight. Demand a mobile phone refund, vouchers for food, and a hotel room if it’s a long enough delay.
And yet, seasoned travelers know how to make the best of overbooking. Sometimes, when you volunteer to wait for the next flight, you get more than the standard compensation. Sound interesting? Here’s some more advice for you then. Choose the most popular destination in a hot season. If there are several flights a day, the airline will bump extra passengers from the earlier flights onto yours.
The likelihood of overbooking each of the following ones will grow with every flight. So you might have a chance to miss several flights in one day, and get the perks fo reach of them. Be the first to come to the check-in desk and ask the airline employee to put you on the list of volunteers to stay back in case of overbooking.
When payback time comes, try to bargain. Claim a premium flight for a bigger sum than the compensation for the delay is. It’s easier for the airline to give you a ticket than to return money. An upgrade is another pleasant bonus. Don’t forget to discuss vouchers for free food, phone calls and hotel accommodation,if it’s a long delay.
But just remember, this only works in an overbooking situation; if you refuse the flight voluntarily,the airline has no obligations to you. If you fly often with an airline of a certain alliance, and have their silver or golden bonus card, you can also benefit from overbooking. As a rule, the company overbooks tickets to economy class, and if there’s a seat in business class, you’ll have first dibs at it.
The passengers with no privileges will go to your seat instead. Despite all these perks, overbooking is more often a problem than a benefit. All these rules work for regular flights, but not for charter ones. In the case of overbooking on a charter flight, you could be sent back to the travel company that sold you the flight.
In that case, you can ask for an agreement termination and a full refund. But the travel company will try to find another flight for you, for sure. That’s why the best advice here is to be among the first passengers to the check-in desk. That’s the only guarantee you’ll get on board. But still, don’t be paranoid. Statistics say that the chances you’ll have an overbooked domestic flight in the US are 0.08%.
As for European companies, the risk is seldom higher than 1%. And now that you know your rights, it’s much easier to deal with it! Well how about you, world traveler? Would you volunteer to wait for another flight in case of overbooking? Or would you claim compensation? Maybe you’ve had to face it once and have your own advice on how to deal with it? Let me know down in the comments.