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Overbooking is a common practice in the airline industry. For a company, it consists in selling more tickets than available seats. The reason is simple, the idea being to fill the plane in case of passengers’ withdrawal. Companies count on the fact that a large number of passengers will not show up at the boarding gate, either because they missed a connection or because they are prevented from traveling due to illness for example.
Overbooking is also a way to keep fares reasonable for travelers. But the problem is that if no passengers back out and your ticket is overbooked, then the airline may refuse to board you. In this case, they are obligated to compensate you. So how does overselling work? What does the law say? What are the situations where overbooking is interesting ?
How to estimate missing passengers?
You should know that this technique is perfectly legal and that you implicitly accept it every time you buy a plane ticket. In order to predict which passengers will be missing, airlines use a powerful algorithm.
It takes into account a number of variables such as the departure or destination airport, the flights that will be delayed or even cancelled, and the weather conditions. One report found that in the U.S. in the 1990s, 16 out of every 10,000 passengers were affected by overbooking. Today, it is significantly less, at 9 out of 10,000 passengers.
What are the reasons for overbooking?
There is no need to hide behind one’s little finger, overbooking is intended to reduce operating costs. As always, money is the key. An unfilled plane is literally a financial drain for the companies. Between the salaries of the staff, pilot, chief of cabin, stewardess, the cost of kerosene, airport taxes, parking fees on the tarmac, flying an empty plane is a heresy.
This is the reason why overbooking allows airlines to maintain themselves and above all to keep their prices more attractive. The economic model of civil aviation is based on speculation, that of an optimal load factor to increase margins and profits. Banning overbooking would have an impact on ticket prices. States have preferred to think about a solution to regulate and protect travelers in the event of overbooking.
How to avoid overbooking?
If you’re looking to go on vacation, there are a few things you should do to avoid overbooking. In this case, proceed with your online registration as soon as possible. Online check-ins are open 48 hours before departure. This way, the company will know your travel profile, which can count when choosing overbooked seats.
Travel accompanied, it is not uncommon for the computer to designate a solo traveler. You have no chance of being declared overbooked if you have a connection in your itinerary. Be aware that business class is never affected by the overbooking problem. This only applies to economy class.
Enrolling in a company’s loyalty program is also a factor. Finally, if you are used to traveling with this company, the algorithm will automatically exclude you.
What can I do if I am overbooked?
You are at the check-in counter with your luggage and the hostess on the ground tells you that you will not be able to board the plane due to overbooking? You can’t refuse this fact. You have been designated by the algorithm and this is not negotiable. On the other hand, you have a recourse which is the right to compensation. The airlines are obligated to move you to a domestic flight and provide you with substantial financial compensation.
For flights departing from a European country, you can choose to take the first available alternative flight. You can also choose to select your own departure date and time. Finally, you can request and obtain a refund of your ticket if you feel that the trip can no longer be made under these conditions.
What are the financial compensations ?
To obtain financial compensation in the USA, you must negotiate directly with the airline. It can include a credit to be used on another flight, a night in a hotel if you have to sleep there, reimbursement of your food expenses, and even a moment in cash that can reach hundreds or thousands of dollars.
When is overbooking interesting?
As you can see, it is not the stewardess who decides who can and who cannot board the plane. It is a secret algorithm that takes into account a certain amount of data about you and your destination. Overall, if you are traveling solo and going backpacking, this should be seen as an interesting opportunity for you, even a good news.
This type of travel is typically that of a person who is not in a hurry and it is by being free as a bird that you will appreciate overbooking, especially if you decide to do it yourself, i.e. by indicating at check-in that you agree to overbooking. In this case, the ground agents will make you an offer that is often very attractive.
If your final destination has regular flights, you may only have to wait a few hours for your next flight without even leaving the airport. During holidays or school breaks, overbooking compensation is even more advantageous, with discounts that can pay for two additional round trips.
As you can see, overbooking is not always a problem. There are cases where this practice is very lucrative. It can bring you a lot of money or enough to extend your trip once you’re there.