Yes, Ethics Alarms was able to find a photo of an actual plane-train wreck.
This was all due to moral luck
If four passengers had taken the United offer to surrender their seats, or if the passenger selected by the agent had complied, grumbling quietly, we would neither know about this horrific episode nor would anyone be talking about it. Yet the United employees would still have lied, and would still have abused United customers. They just didn’t get away with it, that’s all. They were unlucky.
NOW passengers are informed.
Fine print is technical disclosure, but especially in the era of electronic ticketing, not actual or ethical disclosure. Before this episode, most flyers didn’t know what they had agreed to regarding overbooking, nor were they even aware that there was such a thing as “involuntary bumping” A lot more are aware now. From travel site One Mile At A Time:
When an airline knows that a flight is likely to be oversold, they’re required to solicit volunteers. Sometimes airlines will ask at check-in, and other times they’ll ask at the gate. When it comes to a voluntary denied boarding there are no regulations as to what you get….
When airlines can’t find volunteers and still have more passengers than seats, they need to involuntarily deny people boarding. Every airline has a clause in their contract of carriage allowing them to do this. Furthermore, airlines all have procedures they use for determining who gets bumped. Some airlines bump the people who don’t have seat assignments. Other airlines decide based on who checked in last. Others decide based on status and the booking class you have.
Do note that the number of passengers being involuntarily denied boarding was at a 20 year low in 2016. Out of roughly 660 million passengers last year, only 40,000 were involuntarily denied boarding, which is roughly 0.6 involuntary denied boardings per 10,000 seats.
If you’re involuntarily denied boarding, the Department of Transportation regulates what you’re entitled to. Here are the rules, as published by the DOT:
- If you are bumped involuntarily and the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to get you to your final destination (including later connections) within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, there is no compensation.
- If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to 200% of your one-way fare to your final destination that day, with a $675 maximum.
- If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (400% of your one-way fare, $1350 maximum).
- If your ticket does not show a fare (for example, a frequent-flyer award ticket or a ticket issued by a consolidator), your denied boarding compensation is based on the lowest cash, check or credit card payment charged for a ticket in the same class of service (e.g., coach, first class) on that flight.
- You always get to keep your original ticket and use it on another flight. If you choose to make your own arrangements, you can request an “involuntary refund” for the ticket for the flight you were bumped from. The denied boarding compensation is essentially a payment for your inconvenience.
- If you paid for optional services on your original flight (e.g., seat selection, checked baggage) and you did not receive those services on your substitute flight or were required to pay a second time, the airline that bumped you must refund those payments to you.
As you can see, in many cases you’re entitled to a sizable cash payment, up to $1,350. However, here’s the dirty secret of the airlines. In a vast majority of cases they’ll only offer cash compensation if you specifically ask for it. Otherwise they’ll offer you the same voucher they gave anyone who was voluntarily denied boarding.
Note, however, that none of this involves taking people who have already been seated off of the plane. That’s because bumping doesn’t work that way, and also because the United flight in question wasn’t overbooked, as discussed below. Continue reading