United Overloads Plane, Kicks Off Passengers Who Paid The Least For Their Tickets

Last week, a United Airlines flight from Burlington to Washington, D.C. was deemed too heavy to fly, so the company had to decide who to boot off. In a moment of what was almost certainly accidental honesty, they targeted the 20 least profitable customers. We know this was their criteria because they announced it to the rest of the passengers, so those who remained were able to rest easy knowing that all the cheapskates, budget travelers and poor people were gone.

One of the passengers on the flight was Bruce Poon Tip, who tweeted about it as it happened:

United Airlines Service. Just announced they have a weight problem and have to remove 20 ppl in order of how much you paid for your ticket!


So uncomfortable with United Airlines removing families and older couples who bought cheap tickets. Sad frankly.


It’s funny, there is no anger really. People are embarrassed. [The gate agent] has announced that you will be thrown off based on how much u paid.

Although it’s probably not the end of the world to have your bargain-hunting skills revealed to strangers, it seems like it would make more sense from a customer service perspective to select passengers randomly, or to use some criteria that in no way reflects on the passengers personally–like random selection, or the last n passengers to board.

United responded to Tip that same day via Twitter and acknowledged that going by ticket price was uncool:

What airport and what gate? We’ll look into this. @brucepoontip


This shouldn’t have happened. We are locating the correct station and gate no. and will address the issue today.

As of today, however, the airline hasn’t posted any follow up item on their Twitter feed. United also hasn’t said whether what “shouldn’t have happened” was the use of ticket price to select passengers, or the fact that the removal criteria was announced publicly.

“United Flight Kicks Off Passengers Who Paid Least for Tickets” [Jaunted via This or That] (Thanks to sgmaxx!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Kris says:

    So people who were actually smart and shopped around and found a bargain ticket price get it in the end? Niiiiiiiice.

    • c!tizen says:

      At least they didn’t go total douche and remove them based on passenger weight.

      • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

        When I first saw this, I REALLY thought the article was going to say that they removed the largest people from the plane. I actually didn’t feel that outraged when I saw that they didn’t use that as criteria.

        I really don’t think this is the worst thing. They had to pick a way to get rid of people. At least if they use this criteria, they can get rid of an entire family together, etc…No matter how they chose to get rid of people someone would have been pissed.

        • zibby says:

          Exactly. They obviously needed some system, the data was readily available, it would have taken too long to set up a lottery, and it is probably relatively safe in terms of avoiding charges of discrimination, etc. Of course, this system is a Consumerist reader’s worst nightmare…

          Speaking of flights, I just had my first experience being next to The Fat Guy. For 10+ hours. I have to say that it changed my perspective a bit.

          • godlyfrog says:

            I disagree. What was paid for a ticket is meaningless in the end because they paid what the airline was offering at the time. It’s not like they had an option to pay more to remain on the plane. The guy who shows up late to the airport and buys a ticket at the counter in a rush is going to have paid more for his ticket but should not be the one allowed to stay on a flight while someone who paid for a ticket 6 months ago and paid less should be booted.

            If you want to choose people based on data, then order them by time of purchase and choose the 20 people who most recently purchased their ticket. From a business perspective, those who booked far in advance and are booted will be far less likely to choose that airline again than the person who, in a rush, only bought their ticket two hours ago.

            • Gaz says:

              It really depends on what criteria they wanted to use. Inconvenience the smallest number of people? Minimize their revenue loss? I don’t know what the strategy was, but any system I can think of would irritate someone. A random lottery is the “fairest” but probably the worst real strategy for United. I’m a heavy guy, but I still think the best way would be to move the heaviest people off the flight.

        • c!tizen says:

          Agreed. What I’m confused about is how exactly this flight went so far over it’s weight limit. I know it happens, but it shouldn’t be anywhere near its weight limit when filled to max capacity. Lets say, just for s$g that the average weight of all 20 passengers was 145lbs, that means they went over weight by more than a ton. They have to account for max weight with a full plane as well as checked baggage. There had to be either an abundance of seriously over weight people (or super tall folks) on that plane or they were hauling some other kind of freight, which should have been removed before any paying passengers.

          • Doughbuy says:

            That might be exactly what happened. I assume they sell seats according to a normal distribution of the U.S. population with some intelligent assumptions, but say there was a fat peoples convention (just hypothetically) in the target city, then you might go over real fast…

            Kicking people off would definetly be better than say reducing the amount of fuel…

          • ferricoxide says:

            Saying “should have removed cargo” isn’t terribly realistic. In the end, that cargo is making it so they can charge *less* for everyone’s seats. Given the cargo rates they get, were they going strictly by “fare class”, the cargo would be the *last* thing off most flights.

    • Red Cat Linux says:

      The first thing I thought was that the poor person who ‘wisely’ bought their ticket far in advance of the last minute people who paid more got booted off the plane for purchasing their tix early.

      I would be pissed if that were the case.

  2. UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

    I know I’m gonna get flamed for this… but this makes sense to me– except for announcing it. The fact is, the people who paid the least probably purchased their tickets off of Kayak or a similar aggregator, and are probably not loyal customers. Booting them has the least likelihood of damaging future ticket sales, as the low-paying customers are probably just buying the cheapest tickets every time, regardless of airline.

    This makes perfect sense to me from a business perspective.

    • NarcolepticGirl says:

      well as far as I know, Kayak is just an aggregator site that usually just links you to the airlines.

      • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

        I’ve purchased tickets off of Kayak through other ticket sites like Orbitz. They’ll sometimes link to the other sites in the sub-link with the price in it. Cool feature, even if I’m almost always just going with the cheapest Star Alliance partner anyway…

    • Tim says:

      There’s another reason: the amount airlines have to pay involuntarily bumped passengers is based on how much the passengers paid for the tickets. So bumping a more expensive ticket is more expensive for the airline.

      But yeah, they don’t usually announce it.

    • ConsumerA says:

      I have premier status on United but still always begin my ticket searches with Kayak. Once I find the cheapest flights there, I will book them directly on United’s site.

      Even loyal customers try to buy the cheapest tickets. Why would I pay more if I can get the exact same ticket for less?

      • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

        I’m the same (Premier status and all), and I agree with you that most people do the same. I’m just saying that, from an odds-based statistical perspective there is a reasonable business logic here.

      • gamehendge2000 says:

        Pretty certain no one with status would have got booted, no matter what they paid for the fare.

    • pb5000 says:

      No, I agree with you as well, it makes complete and total business sense. While it sucks for the people who were removed, it’s the most logical way to handle that type of situation provided those that were removed still made it to their destination in a reasonable time period.

      The classic case of you get what you pay for.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      It was a no-win situation. United overbooked, overloaded, then kicked passengers off – regardless of the criteria, kicking people off your plane is really not going to bring about good tidings from anyone. It doesn’t matter whether you were the least profitable or one of the most profitable – you’re not going to be too happy with United. The difference is, I doubt United would have kicked off a passenger riding through a business account – United doesn’t want to anger their business clients who are capable of switching their entire travel account to a rival airline.

      • Scuba Steve says:

        Indeed. How did they put themselves into this situation? The carrying weight of the plane should have been known before hand. The passengers should have been estimated against for average weight, and the lugguage should have been taken into account based on allowable check-ins and carry ons. If the math was done, there should have been no issue with weight at all.

        • yesteraeon says:

          You’re allowed to bring a lot of luggage (i.e. a lot of extra weight) if you’re willing to pay extra for the privilege. So it’s far from impossible to get a lot more luggage weight than usual on one particular flight.

        • Powerlurker says:

          Bad weather can also lower the weight the plane is allowed to carry, this is most significant on smaller aircraft.

        • YouDidWhatNow? says:

          Airlines rarely know what the weight of a plane’s load is going to be beforehand – speaking as someone who has worked closely with airlines about this specific issue.

          They all sell space on all flights for various cargo…and realistically, you don’t know what’s going to be sitting in the warehouse waiting to ship until right before the flight. The containers they load onto the planes all have standard dimensions, but obviously the actual weight of each container will vary greatly depending on what is actually in it. Shipping a container of, say, Nerf balls would be very different than a container of mail – densely packed paper is VERY heavy.

          Also, you can’t predict what the passengers are going to bring. Maybe you get lucky and you get a planeload of light travelers – or maybe everybody shows up with an extra 50 lb. bag. Sure, you charge them for the extra bag…but you still have to deal with the total cargo load the plane can carry.

          • mythago says:

            Oh c’mon. You’re telling me airlines cannot possibly make a reasonable estimate of how much the weight on a plane is going to be, and can’t ever gather that data to predict such things in the future?

            • YouDidWhatNow? says:


              I can tell you with full certainty that until at best a couple hours before a flight, the airline has close to no idea what it’s going to be loading on that plane.

            • YouDidWhatNow? says:

              Oh, and if you don’t believe me, feel free to have a sit-down with the director of cargo at any airline. He will tell you exactly the same thing.

            • huadpe says:

              They can, but there is variation. Just like I can tell you the average rainfall for a city quite easily, but not know for sure if it will rain or not until very close to the date.

              • YouDidWhatNow? says:

                …on an airplane, you might have an “average” weight of cargo of, say, 3,000 pounds.

                Which is a value that helps you plan for an individual flight in no way at all, since the variation is from 0 pounds to probably 20,000 pounds.

                True fact: a shipper can show up at the cargo dock an hour before a flight leaves with a loaded container and book it on that flight – right then. There are various ways a container can be booked – they can be booked on specific flights, so that the shipper and receiver (or usually, freight-forwarder) can keep a tight schedule, or they can just be point to point, and the airline can use whatever flights they want.

                …but if you book it on a specific flight, and you pay that significantly higher cargo fee, it’s gonna be on that flight (or the airline has to pay you a penalty). And yes…it can show up pretty much right before a flight leaves…being utterly unknown to the airline beforehand.

        • fs2k2isfun says:

          There are two possible reasons the plane could have been overweight, either not being able to take off from the runway, or needing additional fuel due to weather enroute.

          First, if the weather were hot and humid aircraft performance degrades.  The 8320′ runway at Burlington may not have been long enough for the fully laden plane on such a hot and humid day. The same plane can carry different weights on any given day. The so called “4-H club” (heavy, high, hot, humid) all adversely affect aircraft performance. Burlington’s runway is 8320 feet long, so not short, but not huge either.

          If there were adverse weather either enroute or in DC its very possible the plane would need to lose a lot of people to make room for additional fuel.

          I think going off cheapest airfare (after taking care of frequent flyer elite status members) is the best way from a business point of view. Take care of the people who you make money off first, then everyone else.

          • Anaxamenes says:

            Don’t forget, the temperature of the air is also important in regards to how heavy the plane is. Hotter temperatures change the nature of the air surrounding the wings and therefore require a plane with less weight to complete liftoff.

            I also agree, your bargain hunting customers should be the first to go. In the long run, you are more likely to get the customers that actually cost your company money, rather than bring it in. Besides, you are taking care of your best customers, because they probably bought the ticket from your website, instead of orbitz and you get to keep the entire ticket fair.

            Most bargain hunters go with the cheapest price and don’t care about loyalty to any company that treats them better than another. They’ll be back if the price is right.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      Have to agree as well. From a business standpoint, you clearly want to maintain your margins as best you can – so if you have to refuse to serve someone, refuse to serve those who you are making the lest profit from.

      But yes…they probably should have been a little less vocal about how they chose their booted customers. No need to announce it like that. Just simply announce a list of names and leave the selection process to the imagination.

      • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

        Yeah, that’s just absolutely stupid.

        I don’t understand how anyone thought it would be a good idea to make it known to all the passengers. You quietly ask the passengers off the plane and tell them they were chosen for unspecified reasons. At random, even.

    • Anathema777 says:

      I can tell you one case where it wouldn’t be a good business decision. My company books tickets for our conferences far in advance so that the tickets will be cheaper. If we were kicked off of the flight because our tickets were the cheapest — because we planned ahead — I’m pretty sure United would lose all of our future business.

      • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

        Sure, there will be cases where this doesn’t work. Hell, that’s the case with every choice possible when you’re booting passengers like this.

        It’s risk-reduction at this point, not risk-zeroing.

        I’m not saying it’s a perfect method. It’s just a rational, albeit flawed, method. When you have to boot 20 people, you are going to give someone a haircut.

    • Jacquilynne says:

      Not only that, but realistically if you’re picking a “fair” metric for deciding who to kick off a plane, “people who paid the least to be on the plane” seems like a pretty fair metric to me. The only other fair, non-random criteria I can think of are:

      Based on who booked the earliest.
      Based on who has this as their sole, direct flight on their outbound itinerary so they’re not stranded away from home in the middle of nowhere if they don’t make the next flight, and they don’t miss any further connections that would also have to be rebooked. But this won’t necessarily get you the right amount of people, so you’d still have to choose between them.

    • MMD says:

      Ah, but from a consumer’s perspective, a ticket is a ticket. If I have a ticket for coach and you have a ticket for coach, we have the right to the same level of service, regardless of how we procured that ticket.

      Maybe people who paid the least are the least loyal customers…but give me a bad experience like this and I will *never* come back, even if your airline is the cheapest.

      • ConsumerMan says:

        Not at all coach tickets are created equal though: the airlines have long had many fare classes, even amongst coach/economy classes. Just as they use these classes to determine upgrade priority, it makes sense to me that you’d use it to determine the reverse. When they said “by how much they paid” they probably meant “by class” (the probably correspond, but needn’t necessarily…). Or at least I hope they did.

        (I acknowledge that the original scenario does sound like quite the screw-up though: they should be able to plan well enough to know when they’ll need to remove TWENTY passengers to keep the plane under weight).

    • XTC46 says:

      I agree. The only issue i see here is a training one with the person who made the announcment.

      Businesses want to make money, this is how they do it.

    • Big Mama Pain says:

      You’re assuming they got kicked off the plane and screwed out of their ticket. They are going to get put on another flight, so regardless of how much they paid for the ticket, their cheap-ticket body is going in a potentially full-priced-ticked seat whether it’s then or two hours from then or the next day. I don’t see WHY United would even use this as criteria.

      • Conformist138 says:

        Thank you. I don’t know how so many people missed this: the airline saves no money because they can’t just kick the people off, not rebook them, and keep all the money. The low-paying passengers now get to be moved to another plane, United saves nothing. So, they were being dicks just to be dicks. Playing games with who is most loyal will just turn off a lot of people who hear about it, so there’s no benefit to being jerks and outing everyone traveling on a budget.

        • An_Album_Cover says:

          While I agree with your point, by and large, let’s not overlook the fact that those passengers who were kicked off the flight were probably compensated in the form of flight vouchers of some flavor….

  3. sleze69 says:

    They should probably have removed those people based on the date of booking.

    • Pax says:


      “The 20 most-recently booked tickets will have to be bumped to a different flight.”

      That would be fair, equitable, and ……… never happen, because ticket prices always go UP the later you buy them, so the cost to the airline owuld increase that way.

    • GrandizerGo says:

      +1 ftw.
      The way it should always be handled.
      I take it this happened AFTER they did the offer to take later flight for more air miles or coupons for hundreds off the next flight???

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      The most politically correct way to handle this would have actually been to dump some of the freight cargo. They could have easily found alternative transportation for freight, probably just on the next flight out. That’s a heck of a lot easier than finding room for 20 passengers in other flights, and doesn’t create a media/consumer backlash.

      And if they indeed wwere able to ship on the next flight, it’s possible most of their freight customers wouldn’t have known the delay even occured since freight usually isn’t so time-specific as people’s travel is.

      • BridgetPentheus says:

        dump the freight cargo

      • terrillja says:

        Depends what it is. Time-sensitive biological medications regularly travel by passenger plane, and those need to get there ASAP. If you have drugs that have to be kept below a certain temp on a plane, they can’t just wait around or their cooling (usually dry ice) will run out and they will be useless. I don’t think UAL wants to be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars of wasted drugs and unhappy patients either.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          I’m sure they had a choice as to what to dump. Medical shipments, surely you should keep. But there was likely a lot of other choices that were not time sensitive or perishable.

    • Supes says:

      My problem with the last 20 people to book the flight is they often are being forced to fly because of an emergency…. death, illness, etc.

      Most people plan flights in advance because they know tickets are cheaper. Those people who book at the last minute usually have a reason for doing so, and their situations are often the most time-sensitive (and being bumped would affect them the most).

      • maestrosteve says:

        I really don’t agree with you here.

        Someone who books a flight 6 months in advance is booking it because of a vacation, conference, or something where money was probably spent to hold a hotel, whatever.

        If someone books a flight last minute because of emergency, a death, etc.. and they get bumped, that’s the deal for booking late. Someone who booked a flight 6 months ago and didn’t have to think about it again because things were all set, shouldn’t have to suffer. It sucks either way, but last minute bookers (who are also probably now paying the most), regardless of the situation, should take the most risk.

        • thatdarnedbob says:

          So some poor sap has to miss their mother’s funeral because maestrosteve can’t handle being on vacation with his family for one more minute. Classy.

          • Mr. Pottersquash says:

            hey, fun even comes first in the word funeral.

            not to sound crass, but dead mom will be there tomorrow, I only get 2 weeks vacation and my hotel will bump me if I do not make that check-in time.

          • maestrosteve says:

            My 6 months of planning in advance, paying the going rate at that time for a family vacation trumps someone’s last minute emergency. Planning in advance is supposed to secure your position. You don’t like that response, too bad. Next time I hope it’s your emergency.

      • Verdant Pine Trees says:

        Bad assumption. When I was younger I travelled at the last minute all the time. It had nothing to do with funerals or being ill. Plenty of travellers have been asked to do a last minute hand-holding with a business client, or decide to travel on a whim.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      I think that this would have been the fairest way to go about it. It’s not fair for people who booked 5 months in advance to get bumped over someone who booked only a week before.

    • wetrat says:

      Actually, they usually do it based on who was last to check in (but they usually also bump people BEFORE they get on the plane!)

  4. jason in boston says:

    20 people? Was the plane also carrying freight (mail and packages for USPS / FedEX / UPS) that were making them much more money?

    I can see getting rid of 1 or 2 people to cut down on weight…but 20? This seems fishy.

    • dolemite says:

      That’s what I thought. That’s almost 2 tons of weight they miscalculated? (going by 180 lbs per person).

    • ShruggingGalt says:

      From the first time I read about this story (over the weekend), they were overloaded with freight, which required them to drop passengers.

      Granted, this will be moot in 4 years anyway, since the FedGov’s requirement to have BMI on your medical records (which have to be digital soon) will be linked to the DHS’s database of passengers, so the airlines will know how much you weigh…..

      (last post was sarcasm but scary in that it could happen!)

      • jason in boston says:

        4 years? More like 20. I worked 2 years on an EMR project. The hospitals, insurance companies, IT departments can’t agree on a standard, and it is a total mess. I would actually like an EMR that I could access on my phone anytime I wanted. Sadly, Microsoft healthvault is in the lead – and that isn’t going anywhere fast. Google’s offering is in a giant holding pattern.

        Hell, when I was single, but BMI in Match.com…would have saved me a lot of frustration with the “myspace type” pictures that the girls with nice personalities put up. Yuck.

  5. Supes says:

    If it’s too heavy, how about kicking off the heaviest customers? If you kick them off starting with the most obese, you might be able to get away with only removing 15 or so passengers instead of 20, allowing more people to make the flight.

    Or perhaps, if you want to get technical, a ratio of pounds weighed/amount spent on flight, so you could have the most cost-effective use of the amount of weight the plane can carry. So a very skinny person who did not count much against the plane’s weight limit could get away with booking a super-cheap flight.

    • jacques says:

      FAA considers all adult passengers to be equal weight. Just as they consider all bags to be one of two weights.

    • uber_mensch says:

      Try kicking my ass off of the flight just because I am bigger than you and you will find out what big people are capable of doing.

      • Red_Flag says:

        Being tazed by the TSA and then arrested for interfering with a flight crew?

      • Supes says:

        No worries, it wasn’t a serious suggestion… Being ironic, I was trying to take the next logical step using United’s reasoning.

        In all seriousness I’d have advocated a random lottery.

      • Liam Kinkaid says:

        Unfortunately, the mentality on the airlines these days is any kind of ruckus caused is grounds for immediate removal from the flight into the arms of law enforcement. From one big guy to another, they’ve got us over a barrel, my friend.

      • pantheonoutcast says:

        Getting winded opening the mail? Sweating while typing?

      • Anonymously says:

        Having a heart attack after minor physical exertions?

    • evnmorlo says:

      True, but there is currently no database of passengers’ weight.

    • Don't_rip_me_off_bro says:

      I’ve always felt it would be reasonable to pay for a ticket by the pound (person plus baggage). I would pay a standard estimate which would be adjusted to actual weight upon check-in.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      They are just trying to come into compliance and formula is each passenger weighs the same.

      The plane doesn’t have a scale nor is it parked on one. It’s all estimation, and they probably could have taken off a couple of tons overweight without incident. But there has been at least one crash in recent memory that was ultimately blamed on the plane being overweight, so I guess we don’t want them getting careless.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      That’s a stupid idea. Then guys who are 6’4 with big bones pay more even though they have no actual say over the construction of their bodies. There are many things that people have no control over that add weight to the body-height, bone structure and density, muscle mass, women with very large breasts, etc… This doesn’t even include the part of weight people can control–like obesity. And, even then, some people carry an extra 20 lbs because of thyroid issues and the like. Weight isn’t alway about too much fat. Often weight is about build, muscle, etc… It makes me think about my dad who is super tall with a very large frame, but he isn’t fat.

      People would be punished monetarily for things they have no control over, which is totally unfair. The hair-brained idea of choosing by weight would also mean that a father in the family might be asked to vacate, but the rest of the family could stay on. That would make no sense whatsoever.

      So, basically you are either one of those sick fat haters, or you aren’t a very thorough thinker. Either way, it is an asinine idea.

      • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

        Ahh, I see you later said you were being ironic. So, you aren’t so hair brained after all.

      • freelunch says:

        an XXXL dress shirt costs more than a Medium…. much more fabric and stitching required…

        if airlines were so effecient that they are always flying at capacity, why would it be so wrong to charge someone more for the additional fuel their weight requires?

        For all the baggage fees being charged these days, it seems like I should be receiving a refund for not checking a bag each flight. I often travel with less than 20lbs of luggage, and I always carry it on.

    • RyGuy1152 says:

      I find this solution great actually. Fewer people would get kicked off, and those who remain wouldn’t have to suffer because an obese person is taking up both armrests. Would be terrible PR though.

      What are the airlines going to do in 20 years when 50% of Americans are obese?

    • shepd says:

      That idea is just ripe for a discrimination lawsuit. You can get away with making fat people pay for two seats (just like charging for disabled parking). But denying them service is probably covered by the ADA.

      And, that being said, if a fat person pays for two seats, they’d have to be 360+ lbs before they’d actually be over the average. That’s not just fat, that’s somewhere in the top 99.9999%, you’d find maybe one person to boot off a flight in that shape. And that’s a maybe, since someone that big probably just doesn’t fly.

    • MMD says:

      So how would you enforce this? Forced weigh-ins?

    • DangerMouth says:

      Well, I assume it’s not just the passengers, but their baggage as well. My partner and I add up to maybe 275lbs, but we’re the one’s paying extra for 5 overweight bags.

      So that 300 lb dude with the 25 lb carryon still wouldn’t equal my partner and I and our 300 lbs of checked baggage.

      Dump the cargo. It won’t get offended and it’s always late anyway.

      And from my own experience (1K or premier exec flyer with united for 14+ years), frequent flyers are way better at taking things in stride (and knowing how to the the most compensation out of a situation) than your average once-a-year vacation traveller.

  6. Darrone says:

    Let’s not forget that this was the last in a long line of failures. Miscalculating weight of the plane, overbooking freight, etc. You don’t remove 20 passengers because too many people ate their wheaties that morning.

    • evnmorlo says:

      If they expect the average passenger to be 200lbs and 100 300lbers show up…

    • sirwired says:

      An “Overweight” can occur because of weather conditions. For instance, storms along the flight route can cause a normal flight to have to ditch pax in order to fly the new, longer, route. This is not “mis-management”; it happens all the time during storm season.

  7. NarcolepticGirl says:

    Well, besides it being strange having to kick off TWENTY people because the plane was “too heavy”, how else should they select the people?

  8. Jared The Geek says:

    There is no way I would be embarrassed because I got a better deal on my ticket than someone else. I would however, be very angry that I had to get off of my flight thanks to their overbooking.

    • fs2k2isfun says:

      You were able to get such a great deal because of overbooking. No overbooking, no great airfares.

  9. Liam Kinkaid says:

    I think announcing that the price paid for the ticket being the selection factor was wrong. That was unnecessary embarrassment to the paying customers. If the airline solicited people to take a voluntary bump and they still needed 20 people, I don’t see a problem with them selecting based on price paid. An involuntary bump has certain stipulations with it that are governed by the DOT. If they arrive more than an hour later than the original flight, they get cash from the airlines.

  10. MrsLopsided says:

    “…a United Airlines flight traveling from Burlington to Washington D.C. oversold its cargo capacity and ended up with too much weight to fly”

    Dump the cargo not the passengers.

    • Liam Kinkaid says:

      The penalties for not delivering the cargo as contracted was probably much greater than the penalties they had to pay the displaced passengers.

      • Murph1908 says:

        Not when you factor in the negative press.

        Drop some cargo and get it there later on different flights and you won’t see it make any news outlet.

        • Liam Kinkaid says:

          The loyal customers probably aren’t going to give up United for this. Their motivation is status on the airline and the perks they provide. Price shoppers wouldn’t give up United if they are the cheapest. Their motivation is price. Both sets of people are also somewhat motivated by what time what airline can get them to their destination, but the variances due to that are a moot point.

          • longdvsn says:

            That’s not always true. I shop for the cheapest airfare…but I’ll never again fly USAirways (no matter how much cheaper they may be) after they pissed me off.

            • Liam Kinkaid says:

              But you’ll still fly United, even though they’ve had this negative press.

              • squirrel says:

                I certainly will. USAir made my “do not fly” list a couple of years ago (3 busted planes in a row ending with a cross-country flight with no toilets – all on the same flight out of PHL), along with Delta that made it back in 1999 or so (poor maintenance issues on several flights).

                I’m not saying United is great, they are mediocre. But the big thing with my experience with United is after more than 50 flights on them, they are consistent and predictable in their mediocrity – like the city bus. Consistency and predictability are valuable to me in an airline.

                • Liam Kinkaid says:

                  I totally agree with you. I fly Continental almost exclusively. I live in Houston, so it’s the main show in town. But I don’t mind at all when I have to fly United to get some places CO doesn’t serve.

              • Murph1908 says:

                Not necessarily.

                Would it be the only factor that would make me choose another airline over United. No. But when faced with simiar prices and itineraries, people will choose airlines which they have more faith in, i.e., the one they haven’t heard bad stuff about recently.

        • Pax says:

          Yeah, but cargo doesn’t buy an extra in-flight drink, nor does it ask (and pay) for a pillow and blanket …

    • milrtime83 says:

      The cargo was probably a lot more profitable so there would be no chance of that happening.

    • ShruggingGalt says:

      Jabba has no room for those who dump their cargo at the first sign of Imperial starships….

  11. jsl4980 says:

    I’m sure United’s “fix” for this is to instruct all employees to never say the criteria is who paid the least. They will be told to tell passengers that they’re “randomly” selecting passengers, but the list will still be the people who paid the least.

  12. tundey says:

    The only thing wrong is that they announced the criteria. I think from a financial aspect, it makes sense that if you have to piss some people off, it should be the least paying people.

    And what’s with the embarrassment? Perhaps if I had gotten the ticket as part of a free govt handout to poor people, I would be embarrassed. But otherwise, I would not be. In fact, I might even be snug to look at the suckers that overpaid.

  13. MDSasquatch says:

    I flew SWA out of Burbank a few years back and the plane was apparently to heavy to safely clear the mountains at the end of the runway. No announcements were made, but it was quite obvious that the heavier passengers were being asked to get off the plane. They also offloaded most of the fuel.

    The only explanation was that the weather made the extra precautions necessary and that we would be flying to a nearby airport to refuel.

    • unchainedmuse says:

      It never ceases to amaze me that so many people think fat discrimination is okay, until they’re the ones who are fat. Then suddenly it becomes a travesty.

      It’s NEVER okay to discriminate against someone because of their weight. NEVER!

      I’m not fat anymore, but I was, and I know exactly what it feels like to be treated badly because of it.

      I used to love SWA, but they’ve discriminated against fat people too much for my liking.

      • coffeeculture says:

        yeah but when someone of size is encroaching onto my seat, they should have bought a 2nd ticket to begin with. i’d rather have the airline do that task than me telling the person next to me, that’s not my job.

  14. jacques says:

    UAL out of BTV is pretty much worthless. They’ve been cutting back on staff, flights, and plane size. Probably a lack of training – whatever criterion one will use for determining who will be kicked off should be handled discreetly.

    • Galium says:

      Ya, but you should see the new addition to the airport parking garage. Fewer flights smaller planes, but your car will be nearby when you get bumped. Greyhound now has its BTV terminal at the airport. I can not wait until the day when the bus gets more business then the airlines. I do not think it will be long in coming. No charges for extra luggage, etc. too many people for the bus, 15 minute later another bus shows up to take the overload. Leaves on time, gets there on time. No canceled trips, no cops pawing your stuff, do not need any pasties, etc. Can’t wait to get to the airport to catch the bus. PS what do you think will happen to the airlines, when we get high speed rail?

  15. techstar25 says:

    There is no word on if the “kicked off” customers got some sort of coupon or voucher. If so, then not only did they pay the least, but they also ended up with a bonus.

    • Liam Kinkaid says:

      Because they were involuntarily denied boarding (IDB), they’re entitled to cash from the airline. They’re also supposed to receive written notices on their rights to receive cash. However, the airline has the right to counteroffer with a voucher, but you can insist upon the cash if you’d prefer.

  16. PanCake BuTT says:

    It has been my experience, that ‘bargain hunting’ for airfares, usually comes at a ‘price’…more than one layover, odd-ball times, delayed flights..and in this case overbooked flights. I’m not sayin’ this a given/or rule written in stone, it has just what I’ve noticed when it comes to frugal travel.

  17. Urgleglurk says:

    When I last worked for one of their Express carriers, we were trained to go by order of check-in time (last check-in, first off), then ask for volunteers for denied boarding compensation. Unless that’s changed, someone’s in a LOT of trouble…

  18. Pax says:

    The airline industry needs to be regulated, again.

    First rule: you are not allowed to sell more seats on a flight, than the plane physically has available.

    • Liam Kinkaid says:

      Apparently we read two totally different articles. But don’t let that stop you. Keep reaching for the stars, champ!

    • Jdavis says:

      That would most likely result in higher fares, as the passengers that don’t show up help to subsidize the other passenger’s seats.

    • Jacquilynne says:

      Fortunately for everyone concerned, that didn’t happen here.

  19. He says:

    They’ve done this to me and my wife (and said that price of our ticket was the reason) before going from Dulles to Nashville. Turned a two and a half day trip planned two months in advance into a 30 hour waste of time. I don’t think they even asked for volunteers to give up their seats. Or if they did, they whispered it softly away from the microphone.

  20. Dallas_shopper says:

    If they weighed too much, they should have thrown the HEAVIEST passengers off…or the passengers with the most aggregate weight (passenger + luggage).

    Makes more sense to me.

    • thezone says:

      When they are doing the calculations for weight they assume every person is the same weight. They also assume bags are in one of two categories and are also the same. So if they need to get rid of 20 people it will be 20 people not 20 average people 30 small people or 15 big people. You are also assuming that the heavy people have heavy luggage which may not be the case. A 185 lbs guy with a large bag and his golf clubs could easily weigh more than the 250lb big guy.

  21. mzito says:

    So – this was handled terribly, but there is something to be said for at a minimum, removing the passengers with non-refundable fares first vs. refundable fares. If I spent $900 on my ticket to have the ability to change it at will, I think I should have priority over someone who spent $350. Similarly, if I fly 100k miles a year with UA, I’d hope they’d inconvenience people who fly

    That being said, it doesn’t excuse the way this was done. What they should have done was take volunteers in exchange for vouchers, etc., and then start bumping people from there. And not explain who was being bumped or why.

    Also, it is possible that the people who were bumped were entitled to credit. The UA involuntarily denied boarding rules are very complicated, but they could certainly contact the airline or the DoT about compensation that might actually be very generous, depending on the inconvenience.


    It seems like it depends on how big the jet was that they were bumping people from.

  22. mudster says:

    First, lets assume it’s legit that they have to unload 20 people. Why not who paid the least? I would probably be more upset if I paid the most and got booted and someone who paid half got to stay. Seems like a legit reason to me.

    This being said, I wonder if they should have used the last 20 people who booked a flight. Yes, these are probably those who paid more but this seems like a legit criteria to use also.

    • Supes says:

      My problem with the last 20 people to book the flight is they often are being forced to fly because of an emergency…. death, illness, etc.

      Most people plan flights in advance because they know tickets are cheaper. Those people who book at the last minute usually have a reason for doing so, and their situations are often the most time-sensitive (and being bumped would affect them the most).

  23. nandhp says:

    What about United’s Contract of Carriage? Was the flight not, technically speaking, overbooked?

    Overbooking of flights
    United flights may be overbooked, and there is a slight chance that a seat will not be available on a flight for which a person has a confirmed reservation. If the flight is overbooked, no one will be denied a seat until United personnel first ask for volunteers willing to give up their reservation in exchange for a payment of the United’s choosing. If there are not enough volunteers, United will deny boarding to other persons in accordance with its particular boarding priority. With few exceptions, persons denied boarding involuntarily are entitled to compensation. The complete rules for the payment of compensation and United’s boarding priorities are available at all airport ticket counters and boarding locations.
    (Emphasis added)

    American has the same policy, with the caveat that it may not apply for flights from certain international locations. I would guess other airlines have one as well — check the inside of your ticket jacket.

    • chgoeditor says:

      Ah, missed your comment when I posted mine. Yeah, the CoC makes it a no-brainer.

      • godospoons says:

        Me, too, but hey… people need to understand, in detail, how flying works. If we were all rational in these circumstances–I mean, no one wants an overloaded plane to crash–this would be a lot easier.

    • mzito says:

      The flight was not overbooked. It was overweight, which is considered a “safety” issue, rather than an operational one. It’s very true, and even likely, that it was overweight due to poor management on UA’s part, but this is technically a safety issue, and consequently one that lets UA out of a lot of the CoC guidelines.

  24. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    This actually redefines how low an airline can go. I am speechless.

  25. Nick says:

    I say cancel the flight. Everybody flies or nobody flies.

  26. Paul in SF says:

    Did they break any guitars this time?

  27. LadyDonald says:

    Perhaps, instead of going with cheapest tickets, they could have gone with reverse order of when the tickets were bought—after having asked for volunteers. Don’t they ask for volunteers anymore? When I was in college you sometimes got extra vouchers for volunteering to deplane when it was too crowded. That was a few years back, though.

  28. jrwn says:

    Um, question, how do they weigh the plane?

    • Liam Kinkaid says:

      If you’re actually being serious, they can measure the amount of surface area the tires make with the ground. This, accompanied with the PSI in tires, can be used to get a pretty accurate measurement of the weight of the plane.

  29. Puddy Tat says:

    They should have removed the container of whatever they where hauling!

  30. Harmodios says:

    Actually, even though it sucks, this is probably the fairest way to do it.

  31. dosdelon says:

    Maybe they should have gotten a scale and got rid of the 15 heaviest people instead…

  32. chgoeditor says:

    It’s pretty simple: United–like every airline–has something called the Contract of Carriage. You can read it here: http://content.united.com/ual/asset/COC06Jul10final.pdf. This document outlines the airlines rights & responsibilities vis a vis its passengers and vice versa. It’s pretty clear cut and any frequent flier should be aware of its existence.

    It clearly spells out the procedure by which United will deny boarding to passengers.
    1. United will ask for volunteers to take a later flight in exchange for airline credit.
    2. If United is unable to find volunteers, passengers will be permitted to board (though in this case they already boarded) in the following order:
    a. Handicapped & unaccompanied minors
    b. Paying first class passengers
    c. Paying business class passengers
    d. Paying full fare one-way coach passengers
    e. Everyone else.

    Within each group, passengers will be accommodated in the order in which they checked in or presented themselves at the gate.

    So, United’s procedure for offloading passengers should have been cut & dry:
    1. Ask for volunteers who will accept a later flight in exchange for credit.
    2. Assuming there are none, offload the last 20 discounted passengers (any discount…which is probably most coach passengers) to either board or check in.

    That’s it…it’s simple.

  33. rpm773 says:

    While I’d be pissed off, I don’t think I’d really be embarrassed if I was bumped and called out for paying less than others. I don’t recall seeing who can pay the most for coach on a flight as the basis for prestige.

  34. silver-spork says:

    That’s the way they’ve always done it. It was wrong to announce it to everyone though.

  35. SynMonger says:

    I guess this beats the alternative of having everyone deplane and offload some weight in the restrooms…

    Next up on the fee schedule: A fee for not taking the airline approved laxative and expelling all “extra weight” before your flight.

  36. Geekybiker says:

    I thought FAA required involuntarily denied boarding to be applied in reverse check-in order. IE last person to check in gets the boot. I know that’s the case for not enough seats at least.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      “I know that’s the case for not enough seats at least.”

      Nope, the airlines do have to provide IDB compensation, but they can choose who to IDB.

  37. andre060 says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’d be kind of proud to learn that I paid less for the flight than everyone else on the plane. Those that paid more are the losers in this game, not the people that got booted off!

  38. MrsLopsided says:

    If they told me that the plane was too heavy and than only *20 passengers* would make it legal – then I’d volunteer to get off that potential death trap flying at the edge of it’s operational limits.

  39. Martha Gail says:

    Why didn’t they ask for volunteers? It happened once to my sister and I and we volunteered to take the next flight. Everyone who did so was treated very graciously and got free snack boxes and priority boarding. You catch more flies with honey…

    • wrjohnston91283 says:

      I doubt you’re going to get many volunteers who have already boarded the plane, but it would have been at least worth the effort.

  40. Just_A_Guy says:

    Aren’t they supposed to ask for volunteers first? That was the case when I was on a plane deemed “too heavy”.

  41. smallcreep says:

    I was once bumped from a plane I booked 6 months in advance by Delta because I won the tickets in a radio promotion. I called the promotions dept at the radio station and they did fix it for me. Airlines are worse than car dealership when it comes to the “weasel” factor.

  42. MrsLopsided says:

    Wow, half the passengers had to get off?

    The Embraer and Canadair aircraft that United uses on the Burlington (Vt) to Washington route only have capacities of 40-50 people.

  43. dilbert69 says:

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to throw off the heaviest people (by total weight, including all baggage) so you can inconvenience as few people as possible?

  44. MongoAngryMongoSmash says:

    What kind of a name is Poon anyway, Comanche Indian?

  45. Ilovegnomes says:

    The cheapest ticket method may not be that bad of an option. Some of the cheaper tickets might have more layovers. One flight, they were asking for volunteers to take another flight, so I negotiated with the airlines for seats on a direct flight. As a result, it cut a few hours off of our trip and we each walked away with a 300 voucher. Win, win!

  46. godospoons says:

    This doesn’t make sense, since individual fares would be difficult compare. I find it highly unlikely that all the passengers would have the same destination and fares are tricky–though it’s unlikely, a person flying to Sydney via Washington might actually pay less than one flying directly to DC.

    However, there are fare classes, which are highly structured and provide a framework for comparing various fares. This is likely what the gate agent was referring to and, according to United’s Contract of Carriage, this is how United should have prioritized the boarding in this situation (CAPS emphasis is NOT mine, but from UA’s web site):





    Simply interpreted, in order of boarding priority:

    1. The severely handicapped and unaccompanied minors. (I’m sure there’s also other boarding priorities, like for flight crews en route to duty or national security exceptions, but they’re not addressed here).
    2. First Class paid fares (F/A)
    3. Business Class paid fares (C/D/Z)
    4. Full Economy (depending on how interpreted, at minimum Y, likely B fare classes and maybe M and H)
    5. Everyone else, based on some arbitrary point.

    In my experience, United will ask for volunteers before involuntarily denying passengers a seat, but the gate agent was correct. Those who bought heavily discounted tickets would be the first to be pulled from the flight in general. Given that they had to pull 20 passengers who had already boarded, and that the weight event that precipitated the denied boarding seems to have occurred after they had all boarded, it would be quickest to declare everyone equal in terms of time and pull from the lowest fare classes forward. Was it optimal? Sure. Was it fair? Depends on who you are and how you see it.

    Either way–and I’m not defending United here–there’s no truly fair way to kick 20 passengers off a plane, particularly in a hurry. It might not be pretty, but what they did seems to follow the contract of carriage agreed to by the passengers.

  47. SynMonger says:

    Now that I think about it… I’d probably jump up and say “See ya chumps! I paid less than you for coach and now I get PAID not to fly!”

    Ok, not really, but I’d be thinking it. And it’s the thought that counts.

  48. Mac says:

    I had that happen to me twice in a period of a few months – only the airline was American. The thing that ticked me off most was that I had done everything right. I planned ahead and purchased the tickets a full 2 months ahead of time, did all the confirmations and showed up early. I always thought that was the kind of customer American Airlines wanted, but I was apparently mistaken.

  49. Jayrandom says:

    If it’s too small a flight, they might not even be entitled to compensation at all:

    (from http://airconsumer.dot.gov/publications/flyrights.htm)

    In addition, on flights using aircraft with 30 through 60 passenger seats, compensation is not required if you were bumped due to safety-related aircraft weight or balance constraints.

  50. crabbygeek says:

    At least they didn’t get kicked off based on the time they checked-in… American Airlines did this to me… The gate agent said they could book me on a later flight… but they are all over booked as well so I probably wouldn’t get a seat the either… Then they offered to pay for a bus ticket… I opted for neither and rented a car… I will say that American offered me a voucher or check when I declined the flight and bus ticket, of which I took the check… The agent said it would take a little longer for the check… I asked how long… about 20 minutes… after waiting for an hour and half I got my check and was on my way… Never to fly American again…

  51. NeverLetMeDown says:

    Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Telling people that was what they were doing wasn’t so smart, but dropping the lowest-revenue customers is a perfectly reasonable way to do it. If I were doing the algorithm, I’d probably factor in customer status as well, so I don’t bump a high-status frequent flier who happens to be on a cheap ticket, but other than that, this makes complete sense.

  52. varro says:

    If the plane was overweight, give fatties like me or Kevin Smith the bump – and the free ticket!

  53. Amerrican says:

    Likely reason United hasn’t Twitter-responded is that THIS ISN’T A UNITED AIRLINES FLIGHT! It was Atlantic Southeast from Burlington, Vermont – an airport with NO United mainline service or employees.

    I know we all *love* to beat up on the airlines, but in this case the original poster is a company in the travel business with an ax to grind. Passengers were offloaded to make this flight safe, due to heavy weather on the east coast.

    I vote for safety anytime!

  54. oldwiz65 says:

    This is something like what happens when you book hotel reservations on the discount sites; they get the worst service. If you have a problem at a hotel and they see you are a discount customer, they are not all that willing to help you.

  55. flyintex says:

    Not to dismiss that the way United bumped passengers off their flights but there could be a number of reasons why the aircraft was weight restricted that day. I work as an aircraft dispatcher for a large airline and currently Burlington is undergoing a construction project on their main runway which reduces the performance on any aircraft operating out of there right now. Most days you can still take all the passengers but if there is weather at the destination or air traffic congestion getting into Dulles then perhaps the additional fuel was needed. There may be other factors as to why the aircraft was overweight for takeoff other than overselling the flight. The operations agents in Burlington definitely could have worded things a bit differently in dealing with getting passengers off the plane.

  56. erratapage says:

    I wonder how low is low. When I purchase airline tickets, I don’t have a choice what to pay for my coach tickets. Not really. For example, I’m researching airline tickets between Minneapolis and Los Angeles (LAX). On all the aggregators, the lowest price ticket is $318 (which is round trip). All the other airfares hover around this price. This happens to be the same price as I’d pay on the airline’s web site. I suppose I could be lucky and hit a super saver sale and pay less, but there is no option for me to pay $350 to be safe from being booted.

  57. dush says:

    Shouldn’t it be people who purchased their tickets the latest get kicked off?

  58. phalvorson says:

    This has happened to me on a Delta Connections (ASA) flight out of NW Florida before. At first the gate agent came onboard the plane (after everyone had boarded) and asked for volunteers after they had determined that the aircraft was over its weight/balance restrictions. Then she flat out said that if they didn’t have enough volunteers, they would pull passengers off of the plane based upon fare class (i.e. lower/cheaper fare code would get pulled off first). She did get a few volunteers, and they did get the cash incentive, but then she did have to start calling off names over the P.A. of passengers who needed to involuntarily disembark. One of the weirdest situations that I’ve seen in my many days of travel. I think the involuntarily pulled get a higher incentive? Maybe they made out in the end reimbursement-wise despite their delay in travel time?

  59. Carlee says:

    Our company gets special negotiated (gov’t agency) rates – like I just booked an international ticket for about $700, where the published fare would have been $3000. However, the system doesn’t show the special discounted fare, it only shows that the ticket is a XYZ class ticket (XYZ isn’t the real class, I forgot what it is). So if my boss was on this flight, would he have gotten bumped because he paid so little, or would he be safe?

    I only found this out because our travel agent told me that if my boss wants to upgrade, he shouldn’t mention he paid a special rate (since the difference between what he paid and what the ticket cost was so large).

    I think they should base it off of last-checked-in, particularly those who cut it real close. If you can’t be bothered to make it to the airport early enough, you can catch the next flight. The only thing i can think of is that what if there are people from connecting flights? Would they have counted as checking in late, or are they already “checked in” when they check in for their first leg?

  60. suez says:

    This isn’t new. I was repeatedly bumped for 9 hours in O’Hare, watching my name sink lower and lower on the stand-by list as the day went by. It was the first time I’d bought a ticket through Priceline because it was short-notice trip, and I have no doubt the fact that I paid significantly less played a part in it.

  61. Link_Shinigami says:

    My dad used to travel a lot. He did stand by lots when he could just because it could mean being home 24+ hours earlier.

    Once he got the last seat on a plane and someone else was apparently willing to pay top dollar for the ticket that he paid nothing for as stand by. After he got on the plane, they approached him and asked to see his ticket. Standing behind him was the only passenger not yet seated with a carry on bag. My dad handed them the ticket and the guy that was still standing looked kind of stuck up, like he was expecting to get the seat (I imagine a less-traveled would have not realized what was happening and rolled). They then told my dad there was some kind of error with the ticket and they’d have to take him back out to the gate to clear it. He asked to see the ticket again, and went “Nope, nothing wrong here”, and then buckled his seat belt. They did a bit of back and forth about how there was surely an error he just couldn’t see it. After they held the plane up for about 15 minutes, they finally gave up and walked the, now rather PO’d, guy off the plane.

    That’s how you avoid that and how you subtly tell them to shove it, lol.

  62. Trilby says:

    Did they ask for volunteers first, I wonder? They could compensate them, like with upgrades? Oh, wait, that would cost them money. Nevermind.

  63. hmburgers says:

    I know this is a dead thread–but interestingly enough this is NOT just the profit-squeezers at the airline that want this type of behavior.

    I have a relative who had a late evening flight delayed due to a mechanical failure, they told them it could be over 6 hours delay with a chance the flight could be canceled if the repair went past midnight. They were given a choice: Rebook on an AM flight and get a free hotel room, or wait for the plane repair and possibly end up in the hotel / flight next day anyway if the repair goes too long.

    As it turned out there was another flight leaving the same destination an hour later, they were putting people on standby for that flight as well.

    Being a member of the elite-platinum-gold-admirals club, and a first class ticket holder, he demanded that they bump someone from that later flight and put him in their place… and guess what… they did…

    They want money, and people who pay a lot want to be treated special… it’s a match made in heaven… and if you’re the lowest price ticket chances are good you will go with the lowest cost ticket, even if you had a bad previous experience.

  64. Weekilter says:

    They should have removed the fattest people first. Would have made the plane weigh less so they could leave on time :)

  65. japanick says:

    this happened with my wife and I on a United flight last year. They also clearly stated the criteria, which was:
    those with immediate connecting flights get on the flight, any 1K frequent flyers, and then those that paid the most for their tickets.
    They ended up kicking off 10 to 15 people because a “smaller” plane than expected had been given to them by accident for our quick 30 minute flight.