Death By Overbooking?

Here’s an interesting lawsuit. The widow of an Air France passenger is suing that airline, claiming that their decision to bump her husband “caused him to miss a life-saving dialysis treatment at home.” The lawsuit charges Air France with breach of contract, negligence and wrongful death.

Gold star to anyone who can guess what the airline’s response was.

From USAToday:

Air France told Travel Weekly it could not comment since it had not seen the suit, but the carrier added that it takes “very seriously any incident involving the death or injury of one of its passengers onboard its flights.”

Overbooking is a pretty routine business practice, but there are some airlines who don’t do it, like JetBlue.

Widow Sues Air France, Claims Bumping Led To Husband’s Death [USAToday via Tripinator](Thanks, Craig!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. UpsetPanda says:

    Overbooking is a common practice and if I needed steady rounds of dialysis, I wouldn’t schedule them right after my flight home…you never know about delays. But, you know, hindsight. I don’t really know whether they should win or lose. Part of me wants to stick it to the airlines, but I also think there were mistakes on both sides, especially since it seems like maybe Air France didn’t believe their story? The article is much too short, but that is one of the things that I think might have happened.

  2. Buran says:

    Wow, they’re “taking it seriously”.

    Not seriously enough to PREVENT SOMEONE FROM DYING even when they were told of the urgency.

  3. Buran says:

    @JD: I don’t think there’s any excuse for assuming someone is joking about this kind of thing.

  4. Curiosity says:

    In the U.S. whether some is or is not common practice is irrelevant to if it is a breach of contract, unless it is either an explicit portion of the contract, or it can be interpreted as part of the contract.

  5. madanthony says:

    If it was an emergency that he get dialysis, shouldn’t he have been able to get it in France? I mean, obviously it would be a pain to try to set up, but it beats dying.

  6. B says:

    Aren’t the bumped passengers generally volunteers? Any time I’ve been on an overbooked flight, they asked who would agree to being bumped in exchange for voutures, etc.

  7. BestFriendBritt says:

    @B: It seems to depend on the airline. I was on a Continental flight where they just decided not to give me a seat and they told me to hope that someone else doesn’t show up. I made it onto the flight, luckily, but its ridiculous that they have the power to do that for no reason.

  8. Pylon83 says:

    The contract of carriage usually says that there is a chance of overbooking and getting bumped.

  9. protest says:


    HA!!! obviously you don’t fly that often. regardless, i think i’d much prefer your experience.

  10. LionelEHutz says:

    I think the whole practice of overbooking is fraudulent. If I buy a ticket for a flight then I should be able to fly on that flight.

  11. Pylon83 says:

    They usually are, but if no one volunteers to be bumped, someone gets bumped against their will.
    I’m just guessing here, but I imagine these people showed up late.

  12. Pylon83 says:

    But you agree to the possibility of being bumped when you buy the ticket, it is part of the contract of carriage. So, there is no fraud.

  13. RvLeshrac says:


    There shouldn’t be a “showed up late, no flight” unless the bridge is down and the plane is pullng away from the gate.

    I hate these manufactured delays in our lives that serve no purpose whatsoever, along with the taking off of the shoes and whatnot.

    It seems easier to get on a plane with a bomb today, judging by security tests, than it is to get on with a tube of toothpaste.

  14. Falconfire says:

    @LionelEHutz: The funny thing about it is, the airline is the ONLY service allowed to overbook out of practice. Not only do others not do it, but in many cases there is a law on the book explicitly saying that service is not allow to overbook something for safety issues and the like.

    The reasoning behind overbooking was sound… back in the 70s when they first started to do it based on the then current energy crisis…. but these days with the stiff penalties they are allowed to charge on customers for missing flights, all overbooking does is bring in excess profit at the punishment of the customers who they where paid to serve.

  15. missdona says:

    They can even bump you if you’re the last one to check-in and not actually late.

    My best friend was traveling with her two small children over the holiday and tried to standby for an earlier flight. Because of the two small kids, they “prioritized” her standby. There was two seats available on the earlier flight and they needed three. They asked for volunteers, offered tons of vouchers, money etc. No one moved. Finally they removed the last guy to check in.

  16. Pylon83 says:

    That wasn’t my point. Here is how I assume it played out. We’ll say that airplane seats 400 people. Air France booked 420 people on the flight. 410 show up. The first 400 in line get on and get seated. The remaining 10 wait while a flight attendant asks the already-boarded passengers if any of them are willing to get voluntarily bumped. No one agrees. The remaining 10 get bumped against their will. Now, I think it is safe to assume that the 10 bumpees showed up after the 400 people who got on board, or presumably late. Unfortunately, it’s a risk you take when you fly, and the risk grows when you show up late.

  17. Propaniac says:

    @madanthony: Yeah, I agree it’s strange that they apparently didn’t attempt to get the treatment in France.

    And I agree with those who have pointed out that it seems to have been a very poor decision for the couple to fly back to the U.S. the day before such apparently vital treatment. If they couldn’t leave more time, again, why didn’t they just get it in France? (Also, I may very well be wrong about this, but my impression is that people who need dialysis but aren’t getting it will degrade over at least a couple of days before actually dying. By which I mean, if he died while flying home on the same day that he was scheduled for the treatment, doesn’t that indicate they should have scheduled it earlier anyway?) I wish the article explained what the heck they were doing in Paris when he was so sick.

    On the other hand, even if they did make all the wrong decisions (and maybe they didn’t; there are so few details here), it’s still hard to blame a dead guy and his widow.

  18. abercrombie121 says:

    Um JD my dad had dialysis until he had his kidney transplant but you dont “schedule” dialysis at home you do it every night when you sleep and very bad things can happen if you miss it.

  19. That70sHeidi says:

    The article makes no mention of whether it was peri or hemo dialysis. To arrange for either in another country can be just as deadly as missing it altogether. To be able to adequately explain exactly what you need (possibly in another language) and have them have that on hand, or be able to figure out how to convert what they have into what you need… My god. It’s no wonder my mother doesn’t travel.

    In fact, she was in a [large] local hospital for another problem and not only did they not have the proper fluids, THE NURSES DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO DO IT. We had to make two trips back home to get her machine and all her fluids and equipment for a two night stay. Ridiculous! Several nurses came in to watch (with masks and clean hands) as mom did her set-up herself. I was absolutely disgusted.

    I thought there was some sort of specialty “bump” that could be done for medical emergencies. Perhaps the airline employees don’t understand just how vital dialysis is. There’s no excuse for that death.

  20. missdona says:

    @abercrombie121: I have a friend on Dialysis treatments 3x a week. He does not do it at home, but goes to a treatment center.

    So it might depend on the patient and condition.

  21. That70sHeidi says:

    @Propaniac: No, the effects are felt right after a first missed treatment and it goes rapidly downhill from there.

    Anything the man ate, drank, or even DID can change his fluid levels. The stress of missing that flight even had an effect on his body. If he was close to needing a treatment and it was postponed, I’m not surprised at all that he died so fast.

    Again, checking him into a hospital to get it treated would have been tricky as well. If they’d done that, I’d only give him a 25% survival rate. With all the things that can go wrong…. eesh.

  22. hexychick says:

    If you read the article, the entire family was bumped, not just this man. They were re-booked for the following day which is the day the dialysis was scheduled and the same day he died. If he died the same day of his appointment, weren’t they cutting it a little close to be flying overseas anyway? I hate to jump on the “blame the victim” bandwagon, but something doesn’t add up.

  23. Curiosity says:

    @Pylon83: Obviously, if there was a chance of bumping the contract should say it, however if this was according to a US contract the guy should have read the contract and made sure that he did not get bumped and they had an obligation not to bump him. This is what I assume (assuming an analogous system) that he is claiming, that the airline had a contractual obligation.

    While you would have to look at what the man agreed to, here is the Air France Contract of Carriage that could apply:

    Section 9 part 3

    3. Denied Boarding Compensation for Overbooking
    If, as a result of predetermined overbooking, we are unable to provide you previously confirmed space, we shall provide compensation, in accordance with applicable law, or our denied boarding policy. Should more than one rule exist, the most favorable to you shall prevail.


    In short as I was implying above READ THE CONTRACT.

  24. Curiosity says:

  25. Pylon83 says:

    The thing is, Air France would never agree to a guaranteed seat on a specific flight. It’s a contract of adhesion. Take it or leave it. They’re probably going to try to argue that the overbooking clause is unconscionable or illegal and should be stricken from the contract, putting Air France in breach. They aren’t likely to win in court, but will probably end up with some sort of settlement.

  26. Craig says:

    I don’t think the primary issue here is whether or not Air France had a legal right to bump the plaintiff but rather whether or not they’re liable for the consequences of refusing to acknowledge the life and death aspect of the situation and do something about it (which they obviously could have).

  27. polyeaster says:

    I kind of question why they would choose to travel if he were in such perilous condition…but his wife should feel totally at ease, because the airline IS taking it seriously.

  28. Curiosity says:

    I doubt that it would be found as a contract of adhesion despite it perhaps being take it or leave it.

    Remember the definition is a French concept, but generally it won’t be found in American law.

    First, I understand that you are referring to equity, and no matter how much I would like there to be a breach of contract, it probably is a loser since it is not outside of the reasonable expectations of the person who did not write the contract The reasonable expectation is assessed objectively, looking at the prominence of the term, the purpose of the term and the circumstances surrounding acceptance of the contract.

    Second, Air France has no reason to believe that the man manifesting such assent would not do so if he knew that the writing contained a particular term, therefore the term is part of the agreement.

    Third, the provision is not under the doctrine of unconscionability since there is an absence of meaningful choice.

    Therefore no contract of adhesion – the ability to negotiate is not limited by the contract but by the man who obviously did not talk to the right people (yes this sucks). Note, people who transport live organs on planes for transplants don’t get bumped (I assume b/c of a negotiated contract).

    Lastly, I would not settle if I were Air France, since I would rather take it to court and enforce the prominence of the term – therefore consumers would know that this is a possibility.

  29. Curiosity says:


    I think that is a good point, does anyone know if the airline was informed when he purchased the ticket?

  30. Curiosity says:

    @curiosity: sorry there is a meaningful choice not an absence of one.

  31. MisterE says:

    Damn. I’m a dialysis patient, and the same thing happened to me (except the dieing part). However, I KNEW THE RISK of delayed flights, poor airline service, and the hazards of being an American overseas. I also informed the airline (Northwest) ahead of time of my condition (I was still delayed overseas.) When the delay happened, I immediately contacted the dialysis center overseas where I had treatment. Since they had my labwork, it wasn’t a problem if I had to go there again. I also contacted my stateside dialysis unit and told them of my delay problem. I also showed the ticket counter Northwest’s acknowledgment of my condition, but that didn’t do a thing. I had to wait, no other airlines were flying out from Manila Philippines. However, the Option was there for me to stay another night to get my dialysis if I wanted it.

    To make a long story short, Once I did get off the plane, I went straight to my dialysis unit and got my treatment. After complaining, Northwest Airlines gave my family and I a free round trip ticket anywhere they fly with no blackout dates. I suppose I could have made a bigger issue out of this, but like I said: I knew the risk.

  32. clevershark says:

    It’s kind of silly that the first response on the Consumerist is that we shouldn’t expect flights to be on time, and we in fact shouldn’t even expect to actually have a seat on the flight that we have paid hundreds of dollars to take.

    How pathetic is that?

  33. KogeLiz says:

    I don’t know about this.

    I mean, obviously they didn’t do it thinking someone was going to die.

    And the man passed away on the day of his scheduled treatment… which was less than 24 hours of their scheduled flight.

    Not a lot of information to gather, but perhaps someone feels guilty about the bad scheduling and is looking to play the blame game?

  34. KogeLiz says:


    it’s just reality

  35. sciencegeek says:

    Other services that regularly overbook: Amtrak, U-Haul.

  36. neithernor says:

    @B: On my flight home for the holidays the pilot announced we were overweight because we were carrying extra fuel, and bumped 11 people (about one-tenth of the passengers) off the flight. Luckily for me it was the last 11 people to check in, and I had checked in online… but yeah, it happens, and there was a lot of bitchin’ and moanin’.

  37. pastabatman says:

    As many have stated, something is missing in this story. Something.

    Why would he not get treatment in France? Why? He had some sort of arrangement already yeah? You’re telling me he could not get treatment if it meant he might not survive the flight back?

    Obviously, in a perfect world, the airline would prioritize him and just bump someone else. Makes sense. But once the deed was done, why did he not seek treatment?

    I’m not blaming him, but more baffled by this story.

  38. s35flyer says:

    missdonna – that is about the worst thing I have ever heard. I can not believe they removed a person to make room for people who didnt even have a reservation.

  39. s35flyer says:

    @neithernor: would have been a lot more is the plane went down

  40. faust1200 says:

    I know it’s commonplace and widespread but I think overbooking should be illegal. I don’t want to spend money on a “theoretical” seat. Overbooking is one of the best examples of corporate greed at the direct expense of the customer.

  41. cdcollection says:

    Wait, I’m confused. Was Air France informed about the urgency of the situation?

    Obviously it’s not ideal to bump anyone for a flight, but I’m certain they could have found other passengers to delay or upgrade to a different service. You’d think one or two might even volunteer their seat, had the situation been put to them.

    Or do we just assume that everyone is self-serving these days?

  42. North of 49 says:

    “taking it seriously” is CSR speak for “your point is?”

  43. UpsetPanda says:

    Is it a typo that it happened Jan. 2, 2006? It’s entirely feasible it happened in 2007 or 2008 but two years ago? Unfortunately, neither article (USA Today or Travel Weekly) say how long their trip was. But if he needed dialysis every two or three days, I doubt he’d be going to Paris. It’s a half day’s journey just to get there.

  44. superborty says:

    Blame the government on this one. They allow the airlines to overbook based on statistics of how many people don’t show up. Of course, they don’t take date into consideration (like th day after Easter, etc… when everyone is flying). It is an utter crock. I am against most regulation but I would like to regulate these airlines out of business. What a cartel. If the US would open up to all competition we might be able to get some reasonable performance. They are ALL shameful.

  45. Youthier says:

    Overbooking is an awful practice and if someone is suing over it, more power to them.

    But as others have said, this family has to take a little responsibilty in the fact that they apparently had no backup plan. Things happen and if it’s literally a life and death matter, a backup plan like mistere had is in order. Besides overbooking, there are plane malfunctions as stupid as a broken light in the bathroom, there’s inclement weather and airports in major cities sometimes stop flights for idiotic security breaches.

    Yeah, AirFrance has some fault but this is just poor planning.

  46. ClayS says:

    Airlines are the least reliable means of travel, so to schedule a critical medical treatment without a couple of days cushion is foolhardy.

    I despise airlines and feel for the widow, but i don’t think the lawsuit has merit.

  47. Parting says:

    I’m not surprised it’s Air France. Everyone I know who flew with this carrier, all had different problems, and little help from company’s personnel.

  48. @JD: “Overbooking is a common practice and if I needed steady rounds of dialysis, I wouldn’t schedule them right after my flight home”

    Don’t know his personal specifics, but dialysis patients often receive it every other day, so scheduling nothing right before dialysis can be impossible.

  49. humphrmi says:

    Maybe they should sue France for not offering dialysis anywhere in the country. Maybe France should take people’s kidneys more seriously.

  50. brainswarm says:

    Years ago, when I was a telephone reservation agent for a major airline, I would give customers worried about getting bumped due to overbooking two pieces of advice. First, get a seat assignment (any seat assignment) in advance. In the event of overbooking, they aren’t as likely to take an assigned seat away as to bump someone without one. Second, check in at the airport in plenty of time, and don’t leave the gate area when the plane starts boarding. Nothing sucks more than to find out that while you were getting that overpriced sandwich at the snack bar, the gate agents paged you five times, then gave your seat to one of their pass-riding employees. Which, by the way, is how I once got on a full flight to Salt Lake.

  51. missdona says:

    @s35flyer: Seriously, that’s the worst thing you ever heard? The main story for this post is a lot worse than that.

    What makes you think they didn’t have a reservation? I never said anything like that. Actually, their original flight was canceled and they were re-routed through this city with a close to 10 hour layover. That’s why they “priority standby’d” them.

  52. TBT says:

    @sciencegeek: Hotels also do this on a regular basis, but they don’t ask for volunteers. I used to work at a fancy hotel in downtown DC and many times I had to explain to people that their confirmed $375/night room had been given to someone else. The practice is called “walking,” and its why you see so many same-branded hotels right near each other…the hotel that “walked” you will usually give you a certificate for a free night and get you a room somewhere else on their dime. If there is another Marriott or Hilton across the street, the likelihood that you will have a screaming fit declines, as does the lost revenue from having to pay another chain.

  53. TBT says:

    @TBT–that comment was really directed at Falconfire’s original comment on the topic of overbooking.

  54. coren says:

    Bumping, unless it’s a medical or some other sort of emergency/major problem occurring at that exact moment shouldn’t even be an option. It’s ridiculous that it’s not only allowed, but commonplace.

  55. lemur says:

    @chouchou: 18 months ago, I flew round-trip in economy class from Washington, DC to Mumbai, India on Air France. The service provided was great. So I don’t think saying “it’s Air France” explains anything.

  56. deVious says:

    @curiosity: Contracts exam recently?