On my way to Miami I got stuck for nearly two days in Newark thanks to poor management by United Airlines (read the full article on flying their “friendly” skies here). I usually enjoy hanging out at the airport, but two days on seven dollar meal vouchers is, even for me, too much. If I have a choice in future I won’t fly United again as we seem to have an ongoing difference of opinion on what “friendly” means. But after spending significant time in their departure lounges waiting for non-existing planes, stewardesses, pilots and first officers there’s one other thing that stuck with me: the screens and announcements informing paying passengers on nearly every flight “This flight is overbooked.”
In every departure lounge there was what resembled a bidding war going on by the airline, trying to pay people to get off the plane. Offers started as low as 50 bucks. They would make announcements over the intercom, “This flight is overbooked. We’ll start with $50.” It sounded like an auction. They stopped making announcements when they got up to $400 – which is close to the amount they’re required to pay (in cash) for bumping someone off a flight. It’s a cost effective deal for them as the airline likely has sold that seat (at least) twice, for more than the $400 they’re willing to give you back.
I hate the concept of overbooking with a passion. Pretty much every airline does it these days, but I think it is daylight theft and should be outlawed. How can anyone think it’s good customer service, let alone morally acceptable, to sell a certain number of seats more than once? We’re not talking about time-sharing an airplane seat here. I’m not a lawyer, but I do know that it’s actually considered a crime to sell something that does not exist. I’m not sure if you could argue in court that selling a single seat two (or more) times is equal to selling something that doesn’t exist, but it would sure make for an interesting class-act lawsuit. Either way – the concept of overbooking is a complete outrage, in my humble opinion.
Luckily there are a few things I can do that offer some degree of protection against this kind of corporate greediness, and I consider it my moral imperative to share them with you. If you’d like to learn more, get yourself a copy of my travel hacking book The Freedom Project – available on Amazon and various finer book sellers worldwide – and be part of the insider club next time you fly.Get my book