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Time to call out airlines on passenger-bumping policies

It's rather odd that journalists have so willingly accepted airlines' assertion that their policies of overselling seats on flights should be normal

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passenger bumpingRED DEER, Alta./Troy Media/ – Air travellers being denied the contractual right to passage they paid for — and had approved right through the boarding process — has been in the news a lot these days. As it should be.

I have family travelling abroad right now. I’d like to see them arrive home safely and on time, considering the rather hefty layout we made for their tickets. So the issue is top-of-mind for me.

It’s rather odd that journalists have so willingly accepted airlines’ assertion that their policies of overselling seats on flights should be normal. For every story of weeping passengers pushed out the door of jetliners, we read the obligatory paragraphs explaining that overselling is a normal business practice that helps keep ticket prices down.

That, of course, is pure baloney.

Every oversold seat has been paid for. Some twice. Where’s the loss to the airline when a fully-paid seat is left empty at the last minute because a passenger hasn’t shown up?

The airline has its money, in full. Unless there’s been a cancellation within the rules of issuing the ticket, the airline keeps it money. In fact, airline profits would go through the roof if entire flights could take off empty, with no fuel costs, baggage costs or service costs incurred for actual passengers.

Do you see a disconnect here? If it’s mine, I’d like someone to explain it to me. If it’s not, I can suggest how airlines can keep ticket prices low — or even reduce them: replace the policy of bumping passengers with a policy of fully non-refundable tickets.

Have you ever heard of people buying tickets well in advance for a concert or theatre performance, then can’t attend and get their money back?

No. If you can’t transfer the tickets to someone else, you kiss your money goodbye. Happens all the time.

Airline tickets — for very good reason — are not transferable. They should also be absolutely non-refundable, except through an insurance policy, which pays the cost for you if you choose to pay extra.

So airlines are well able to stop selling tickets the instant the last seat is paid for. No refunds, no transfers. Nobody gets bumped. Ever.

An empty seat on a flight is therefore just extra profit for the airline.

We all know that some people buy tickets and don’t show up. That’s what standby tickets are for. It’s also why some genius earning a seven-figure salary, plus bonuses, invented overbooking.

Airlines don’t want to expressly bump you off a flight you paid for. But they do want to sell your seat on the flight twice, ruining your travel plans – all for a time-limited non-transferable voucher for a discount to do it all over again.

Why has no one called them on this? In any other industry, it would be called fraud and court cases would rightly ensue.

I’d like to see proof that an empty seat represents a loss of income to the carrier. It can’t. The carrier already has their money and if there’s any cash recovery to be made, it should be made to the passenger through an insurance company.

An oversold seat is just double-dipping. Full stop.

Canada has some of the most expensive airline tickets in the world, kilometre for kilometre. That’s because our airport landing fees are among the highest in the world.

But there’s no justification for airlines to oversell their flights. Simply stop selling tickets the moment the flight is fully booked and paid for.

If mistakes are made and passengers need to be bumped, each passenger should get his or her money back and a free seat on the next available flight by any airline to their destination, plus a cash incentive to volunteer to be bumped.

That’s the cost of doing business.

It’s amazing that people pay big money to travel by air, but are expected to act like chumps at the poor planning and poor customer service of airlines.

It’s likewise amazing that we’re all expected to accept double-dipping ticket sales as a normal business practice.

Greg Neiman is a freelance editor, columnist and blogger living in Red Deer, Alta. Greg is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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