Overbooked Airlines Cut Their Nosecone to Spite Their Face

In the face of growing competition and declining revenues, airlines are trimming back costs, like customer service.

Brad, a frequent traveler, and writer of the popular “American Airlines Blames the Victim” post a few weeks ago, sent us another cogent airline gripe. This time he’s got beef with the chaotic and viciously inefficient way in which they handle passengers for overbooked flights.

When I stepped forward to the counter and asked why they hadn
t asked for volunteers or offered incentives, I was told rudely “We don’t have time for that!

For, as he notes, “If you read the fine print on your ticket, you’ll find that the only legal obligation airlines have is to get you from point A to point B. When, how long it takes, and by what route are NOT guaranteed…” His story, and apocalyptic propeller bots, after the jump.

THESE DAYS AIRLINES CAN SELL YOU A SEAT AT FULL PRICE AND THEN NOT GIVE IT TO YOU.

As a frequent traveler, I am sometimes booked on US Airways. As with all airlines in this day and age, they often overbook the flights. And, like many airlines now, they are not taking responsibility for that policy by offering substantial incentives to passengers to take a later flight.

Remember when airlines used to offer tickets and hotel rooms and raise the ante until they had enough takers? Well, what most travelers haven’t noticed is that many airlines now offer one set incentive (usually a round trip ticket) and if there are no passengers who step forward to take the offer, and if you are the unlucky passenger without a seat assignment, YOU get bumped.

Twice now I’ve been on overbooked flights with US Airways. The first time they didn’t even make the attempt to ask for volunteers. They just started boarding. When I stepped forward to the counter and asked why they hadn
t asked for volunteers or offered incentives, I was told rudely “We don’t have time for that!” Even though they and the passengers had been standing around the gate area doing nothing for the last hour. So, one of our traveling party was left behind. Then, because their computer system didn’t seem to be able to tell them if the plane was full or not, they found a couple of seats open by actually going on the plane and doing a manual count. Two of the eight or more passengers overbooked on the flight got to board. I was lucky enough to be one of them. But, one of my traveling group was not.

(Lesson: Tom, the guy in our group who got bumped, was going to just drop the whole incident and tolerate it like most of us do when we get bad service. I wouldn’t accept that. I wrote an e-mail about the incident to US Air and got a standard response letter. But, then I got our travel agent involved and he got Tom a round trip ticket for his trouble.)

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The second US Air overbooking incident happened to me just a few weeks ago, I asked to speak to the supervisor on duty. When no passenger seemed to be willing to take the round trip ticket they offered (and wait in the airport for five hours on a Friday night), a US Airways employee suggested that I wander through the crowd and try to coerce another passenger to take the deal. Apparently, they didn
t have time to get on the mike again and ask for volunteers.

To add even more absurdity to the situation, the supervisor and gate agent who had been dealing with me for 30 minutes or more suddenly realized that they DID have two passengers who had offered to take the incentive an hour before, but that they had “forgotten to write it down.” (Another reminder that the only way to get good service sometimes is to be demanding. If I hadn’t, I’d have been stranded.)

I won’t bore you with the other ridiculous details of the story. There were many that reveal incompetence, indifference and rudeness on the part of the people handling both situations. And, I’ve vowed to never fly on that airline again if I can help it.

But, beware customers of ALL the airlines. They are all overbooking to fill up those planes (and avoid bankruptcy) and you may be the unlucky person who misses a meeting or a vacation because you didn’t realize you were sold a seat that they didn’t really have.

Plus, gone are the days when they feel obligated to offer perks to travelers with more flexible schedules so they can get you on that plane. That’s yet another bit of real service that’s been taken away without us noticing.

If you read the fine print on your ticket, you’ll find that the only legal obligation airlines have is to get you from point A to point B. When, how long it takes, and by what route are NOT guaranteed.

Good luck, travelers.

BRAD

Previously: American Airlines Blames the Victim