Bumping people off flights, albeit usually without violence, is par for the course for the increasingly precarious industry
ROLLING STONE Ronnie Wood’s ex-wife Jo was left fuming after yet another airline overbooked a flight – and she got bumped off.
This time, at Spain’s Murcia Airport, it was easyJet who faced the backlash as the shady practice of airlines selling tickets to more passengers than planes can hold was once again in the headlines.
But as Jo said, at least she wasn’t dragged off the plane. The shocking video of 69-year-old doctor David Dao being hauled dazed, bloodied and bruised from an overbooked United Airlines flight in the US caused global outcry.
Slammed for its arrogance, United’s stock price plummeted as thousands called for a boycott of the US airline for the shambolic way it handled the situation.
But its cockiness almost certainly stemmed from the fact that bumping people off flights, albeit usually without violence, is par for the course for the increasingly precarious industry.
Official figures from the US show that in 2015 more than 500,000 passengers were bumped off flights, voluntarily or forcibly. United alone booted off more than ten people a day last year.
In the UK in 2016 the figure was around 50,000, the Civil Aviation Authority reports.
Airlines claim the practice is rare and always a last resort.
But the fact that there is nothing legally stopping them gives them carte blanche.
Dr. David Dao, man dragged off United Airlines flight, gets back on and runs down plane aisle
When you buy a ticket, your contract is only that the airline will transport you from A to B. How and when is open to interpretation.
Whether you are a doctor, celebrity or a family heading off on a hard-earned holiday, the decision on whether you will actually be able to fly on a plane you booked and paid for is not set in stone.
But the outcry has led to calls for overbooking to be made illegal. After all, why should airlines be able to sell seats twice?
Carriers have always sold more seats than they have — and insist they need to because in most cases some passengers miss their flight or fail to show up.
According to the latest figures, the chances of all passengers with a valid ticket for a flight turning up on time is one in 10,000.
EasyJet, which flew more than six million trippers last month alone, says on average five per cent fail to show.
But so what? you might ask — the empty seat is still paid for, the plane can still take off and, hey, surely there is less work for cabin crew to do? Airlines, of course, do not see it this way.
They say their pricing structures rely on factoring in overbooking.
In short, that cheap seat you got to Malaga recently could only be offered because of overbooking.
To offset the cheaper tickets, airlines offer dearer “flexible” ones, which are hugely in demand by business travellers who may need to change plans at the last minute.
It means airlines are forced to use fiendishly complicated systems to anticipate the demand on any given day, for seats on any given flight.
And that system is not infallible.
If overbooking were to be made illegal, it would almost certainly lead to a rise in ticket prices, not great for the vast majority of passengers who are not bumped from their flight.
So what do we do about it? The simple answer is: Make the most of it if it ever happens to you.
For some passengers, being bumped is a way of making money.
In the US, where travellers are more used to the practice than probably any others on earth, frequent flyers use the system to their advantage.
They keep their plans deliberately flexible and will voluntarily accept a later flight because the compensation more than makes up for the price they paid for their ticket.
But the system only works if everyone plays fair.
Baggage handlers caught throwing bags out of easyJet plane Luton airport
Airlines need to offer the correct level of compensation to encourage passengers to help them out, and no one should ever be forced to physically give up their seat for crew — as happened to the poor David Dao.
Airlines must ensure their passengers — the ones who generate their profits — are always put first and treated properly.
Below is my guide to what your rights are if you are bumped off a flight — and how you can try to stop it happening in the first place.
IF a plane is overbooked, the EU’s Denied Boarding Regulations state the airline must ask people to volunteer to give up seats in exchange for cash or benefits.
If you volunteer, it is up to you to negotiate the compensation – maybe cash, vouchers, food or a hotel room. If no one volunteers, the airline can deny boarding to passengers against their will but must get them on the next available flight and compensate them.
In the EU that can range from £100 if your wait is less than two hours and you are flying short-haul, up to £500 if you wait more than three hours for the next long-haul flight.
If flying in the US, that can be up to £1,000. Following the United Airlines debacle, other airlines have looked at the compensation they will give – with Delta saying anyone who volunteers could get up to £8,000.
THERE are a few things you can do to avoid being the unlucky one shown the aircraft exit door.
Some airlines will pick out the people who paid least for their flight, while others target those who checked in last or arrived a little late at the gate.
So checking in early is a good idea.
Also, once at the gate, do not sit and wait for everyone else to get on board – board the plane when your seat row is called out.
Many airlines will also give priority to those who are part of their frequent-flyer schemes, so it is always worth joining them if you travel regularly with a particular airline.
It may sound obvious but choosing to fly at less busy times will reduce your chance of your flight being full or overbooked.