We don’t know if it’s just the US that operates such brutal tactics on bumping passengers off overbooked flights, but customer service on this side of the world seems to, errrr we don’t know, work in favour of the customers? You’d nary hear of a situation like the now infamous and poorly managed United Airlines fiasco, despite the fact that overbooked flights, even on international airlines, is a regular aviation industry practice. Here’s a simplified version as to why airlines overbook flights:
Fascinating stuff, right? But now that you know you’re just a number, here’s how to avoid getting bumped off overbooked flights, and what to do if you are.
#1 Buy a Full Class ticket
Flight tickets are sold based on class and promotional fares, so you’re less likely to get bumped off a flight if you’ve paid full fare. There’s no guarantee of course, but if another passenger has paid for a promo fare, whilst you’ve paid more for the same seat, chances are you’ll get on the plane.
#2 Don’t Travel on Peak Periods
Holiday season is the prime window for overbooked flights, so make sure you’re not flying on a Monday of a school holiday, or Thursdays and Fridays prior to holidays. This also applies to certain flight times as well, so it pays to do your research beforehand.
#3 Check-In Online
Passengers who check-in last usually find themselves in precarious situations, be it missing your flight (see #4) or getting bumped involuntarily. The internet (and your smart phone) is a wonderful thing — use it!
#4 Get to your Gate on Time
This is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how easily you can get bumped off a flight for dawdling too long at the airport Duty-Free shops, or if your flight has arrived too late for you to get onto your connecting plane. Make sure you’ve got plenty of time to go through Immigration and Security (we like to be 3 hours in advance for international flights — we’re anal like that), or book connecting flights that have a reasonable time buffer.
#5 Rack up your Frequent Flyer miles
If you’re on the lower tier of your Frequent Flyer program, you’re pretty much on the bottom rung of the food chain. Which means that you’re likely to get bumped, especially if you’ve paid a promo fare, checked-in late and you’re late to the gate!
#6 Know Your Rights
As mama says, forewarned is forearmed. In the unfortunate event of overbooked flights, the airlines must ask for voluntary bumpers, before involuntarily bumping off passengers. You will usually be compensated (in cash, meals, travel vouchers, accommodation or upgrades) unless the alternative travel arrangements arrive within an hour of your previous flight schedule. Whatever it is, you have some leeway to haggle (politely) for compensation, especially since airlines don’t usually want to face a PR debacle (unless of course, it’s United Airlines).
#7 Be Nice to Airline Staff
And normally they will be nice to you (again looking at you, United). Hassling staff every 5 minutes is not going to endear you to them or make them want to hand over cash or free flight vouchers.