Don’t re-accommodate me, bro: 4 ways to survive a bad flight experience
First they started charging us for our bags. Then they took away our free in-flight snacks.
And now, it appears the airlines are coming for our seat.
United Airlines officials said they asked David Dao to give up his seat on a Louisville, Ky.-bound flight over the weekend because they needed to make room for a flight crew heading to work. When Dao refused to comply, security officials were called to the scene, and forcibly removed Dao from the plane.
Footage taken by other passengers of Dao being dragged from the plane and then running, bloodied, back on has quickly become another symbol of an airline industry out to make the lives of travelers miserable — as if traveling isn’t miserable enough these days.
But does it have to be? After a busy spring break travel week marred by storms that delayed flights all over the country, here are some expert tips for making the best out of a terrible travel situation.
1) Understand the economics
Airlines overbook flights all the time. In their view, it makes perfect financial sense, says Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst with the Teal Group, a Virginia-based consulting firm.
“The objective is to maximize load factors. It’s the percentage of each flight that’s filled with revenue paying customers,” Aboulafia said. “Sure enough, those load factors have been hitting up well into the mid-80s for the past few years. They have been doing very well with this.”
That means that the airlines want to make sure that no seat goes unfilled, even if passengers cancel or fail to show up. And while it may seem insane to you or me that airlines would rather pay passengers hundreds of dollars to give up their seats and possibly throw in other perks like a hotel stay or meals, analysts say that the strategy is cheaper than routinely underbooking flights.
In fact, it is rare for an airline to force a passenger to give up their seats on an overbooked flight as United did with Dao. The recently released Airline Quality Rating report showed that this affects six out of every 100,000 passengers.
2) When the airlines tell you to get there on time, they mean it
That’s what Bursch Travel president Fred Bursch advises his customers.
“With the ability to check in with your cell phone 24 hours in advance or from any computer, it certainly improves your odds,” Bursch said. “And then getting through security and getting to the gate early, provides some additional security.”
Bursch said that airlines are well within their rights to deny boarding to passengers who arrive at the gate within 20 minutes before the doors close.
3) Know your rights as a traveler
Bad news: Overbooking flights and involuntarily forcing passengers to give up their seats is totally legal, so passengers have little recourse.
Nevertheless, passengers do have rights and it is good to know them.
Among them is that the airline should first seek volunteers to give up their seat. Next, they start involuntarily bumping passengers. Every airline chooses passengers to bump differently. Some choose passengers who paid the least for their tickets, and others choose passengers who checked-in last.
Airlines can offer up to $1,350 per seat to passengers who are bumped from the flight. Exactly how much the airline can offer depends on how long it will take to get you to your final destination.
And here’s a pro-tip: If you are bumped involuntarily, you have the right to insist on a check from the airline instead of vouchers for future flights or free tickets.
4) Cash in
What would make a terrible travel situation better? How about $11,000 in compensation.
That’s how much Laura Begley Bloom and her family made from Delta Airlines over the weekend when their flight was delayed and overbooked — twice — to Florida.
After a second day of trying to get to Florida, Begley Bloom and her family decided to cancel their trip.
“The airline happily gave us a refund for our tickets, and then sweetened the deal with $1,000 of compensation for each of the tickets,” Begley Bloom said. “So, we walked away with $11,000 from being bumped a couple of times and missing our family vacation.”
Begley Bloom works with travel and luxury life-style brands, so she travels a lot for work. She said that passengers shouldn’t be afraid to negotiate with the airlines to get the best deal possible.
And she made this important point: If you choose to get bumped to a later flight, make sure that the airline has confirmed your seat.