Imagine stepping up to the check-in counter, just to hear the agent say, “I’m sorry to inform you but I cannot assign you a seat due to there not being enough seats available; the flight is overbooked. You will have to wait until the end of the flight to determine whether you will be able to fly out today.” This is the worst case scenario imaginable!
Even though this hasn’t happened to me personally, as a former check-in agent, I’ve delivered the bad news more than a couple times. And the reactions I encountered were of pure disappointment and anger. What do you mean I’m not flying? I booked my seats three months ago! This never happens to me on other airlines! Where’s your manager?
Word of advice? Don’t take it out on the check-in agent. It’s not their fault and it’s not something against you. It’s just how the airlines work and get their money’s worth.
How do airlines get their money’s worth by overbooking?
Airlines overbook because they want to ensure that all of their seats get filled. But you bought a ticket, right? Yes, you and 300 other people have bought tickets. And guess what? Some of those people won’t even show up for their flight; these are called no-shows. If the airline didn’t overbook, in this case scenario, those seats would remain empty. It’s a well thought economical tactic.
Is this even legal?
Of course! The Department of Transportation (DOT) has a section on overbooking and the pros and cons about it. Ask the airline of your choice to provide you with a list of your rights. Usually an airline will have a booklet with all of your rights and how overbooked flights work.
So, what can you do to ensure you get on that flight?
1. Check In Online
To make sure you get a seat, many airlines are now offering an option to check in online. This allows you to choose your seat and avoid checking in on the day of. It’s like beating other passengers to the check-in counter.
2. Fly on Off-Peak Seasons
Don’t travel on a busy season. This will increase the chances of a flight becoming overbooked. Flying during the summertime or Spring break are definitely wrong times to fly. The more people are flying, the higher the chances the flight will be overbooked. Look into this before you book a flight.
3. Become a Frequent Flyer
Now, this tip helps a lot! Usually, airlines have a hierarchy that they refer to, just in case passengers need to get bumped off of the flight. The hierarchy may vary depending on the airline and how many frequent flyer status levels they have. But generally speaking, being part of any frequent flyer program is better than none. You get preference over passengers who are not a part of the airline’s frequent flyer program.
4. Avoid Certain Airlines
There are always certain airlines that have a higher rate of overbooking their flights. How can you find out which ones they are? Head on to the DOT’S latest Air Travel Consumer Report and find out which airlines overbook frequently.
5. Steer Clear of Connections
If you make it late to a connection, forget it. You’ve probably already lost your seat. This may not hold true all of the time but it’s important to minimize these risks.