Airline passenger bumping

Of Airlines, Tickets and Overbooking

Tickets and Overbooking

After the plane fiasco involving the physical removal of a passenger, Shares of United Continental Holdings Inc fell 3.3% to $69.17 at 9.46am Tuesday in New York, marking the biggest decline on a Bloomberg index of US airlines.

As if asking for a public-relations nightmare, officers pulled a passenger from a flight Sunday evening after he refused to give up his seat, dragging him down the aisle as travellers yelled at them to stop. Phone video of the event posted on social media sent people into a rage.

Also, the Asian community is feeling uneasy.  By Tuesday in China, the incident was a focus of social media and government editorial. The hashtag #UnitedForcesPassengerOffPlane was the top trending item on Sina Weibo, the equivalent of Twitter, with more than 270 million views. The man who was removed appeared to be of Asian descent.  See The Bangkok Post.

The incident demonstrates how airline bumping can veer into a confrontation. Carriers around the world routinely oversell their flights because people don’t always appear for a flight. Overselling is a way to try to ensure full flights maximising the airline’s revenue.

Outrage was sparked because the man wasn’t being ejected for misbehaviour or a security threat. United said initially that the flight was overbooked, its staff chose him and he didn’t want to get bumped. Changing its reason, United later said it needed room for its own employees to get to another flight.

Video posted to Facebook and Twitter showed the man being dragged out of his seat and down the aisle of Flight 3411 to Louisville, Kentucky. The man said he was a doctor and had to be in Louisville on Monday for work, according to a Twitter account by a passenger who said he was on the flight. The plane from Chicago O’Hare International Airport arrived at 10:01 p.m., almost two hours late.

China’s state mouthpiece the Global Times questioned in an editorial if “the victim’s Chinese ethnicity potentially made a difference” in how the passenger was treated. By dragging the man from the plane, officials “left the man with no dignity,” the editorial said.

Although the ‘fine print’ in airline tickets technically allow ‘bumping’ the way in which it occurred is certainly at the heart of this matter.  Many believe that the airline should continue to raise its ‘offer’ to voluntarily give up their seat is the better way to handle the situation, especially in light of the fact that its employees needed space.

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