Unless you've been avoiding Social Media and the news, you've likely heard about the man who was removed from a United Airlines flight.
The idea of being taken off a flight is terrifying. On the other hand, for the optimistic, it's a chance to make some cash and extend your vacation. Most people are probably laughing at me right now, but airlines offer to pay for a hotel room, in most cases, if you get bumped from a flight.
Still, it's disruptive for most travelers. So, under what circumstances can an airline remove you from their flight? Knowing a little more about all of this can make accepting getting bumped a little easier on the weary traveler.
While what happened recently with United wasn't because of overbooking, people are sometimes removed from a plane because the airline sold too many seats. With this case, it's likely that if the crew members didn't get on the flight, the entire flight they were set to work would get canceled, and it takes a long time to clean up those messes and get everything back on schedule again.
Anyway, here's how it works with overbooking from the airlines' perspective: people frequently don't show up for flights they've purchased tickets for and others end up missing connections/flights. Therefore, having a few extra spots sold per plane ensures that the airline doesn't miss out on making money.
And it's entirely legal for an airline to bump non-volunteer passengers, but bumping actually doesn't happen all that much in the grand scheme of things. Last year, a total of 12 of the largest U.S. airlines bumped about 40,600 of the 657.7 million people who flew. That's just over a half percent per 10,000 flyers, and that's down from 2015's numbers.
Airlines use a forecasting system that does some complex math. It takes into consideration historical data-on people not showing up for their flights that week/year, how many sold tickets are refundable, how many of the flight's passengers are on a connection, and more-and even individual data on the people booked for that flight.Taking all that data into consideration, the machine spits out a number.
An employee then makes some adjustments based on things the computer wouldn't know about-like events in the area and weather-and they come up with the final number of total tickets for a flight.
How can you avoid being bumped due to an oversell? Check in early, don't miss flights (remember that individual data!), book a seat assignment, and try to fly repeatedly with your favorite airline. While this doesn't guarantee anything, it can help lessen your chances of being chosen.
Planes have weight restrictions. I've written about fueling airplanes before, and fuel comes into play of the plane's weight. A fuelers job is extremely important, and they calculate the amount of fuel going into a plane with excruciating precision.
But if there's bad weather along the flight path, or if it's a hot day, the plane may need to take on more fuel and this can mess with things a bit. For example, if a plane is flying into headwinds, it's going to take more fuel to get you where you're going, and a longer runway is needed for takeoff. When it's hot, air density decreases with altitude, so airplanes also need a longer runway to generate thrust and lift. Using longer runways are not always possible, so something or someone has to be removed from the plane to bring the weight back down.
This isn't always something an airline can plan for, so to make up for that extra fuel (and ensure the safety of others), the airline will remove passengers to even everything out again. If possible, cargo is -bumped- before passengers are, but this isn't always possible.
If the tray table on a chair is broken, no one can fly in that seat. Per Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines, no one can fly in that seat. The crew and airline employees may only find out about this at the last minute and will need to remove you if there are no other open seats on the flight.
Per those same FAA guidelines, a passenger must be able to lower their armrests and buckle up with no issues. This is one of the only times a flyer's own weight comes into play, and you can work around it. Each airline handles the solution differently, so doing your research before you travel on a particular airline can save some headaches.
Also, don't show up for your flight drunk if you want to keep your seat. You will likely be denied boarding if you're visibly intoxicated. You can also be removed for fighting with other passengers or disobeying crew instructions. Likely, you'll get a warning for some of these before you're actually thrown off the flight.
There are so many different factors that affect whether or not you'll keep your seat-more than are in this post. But, chances are if you're going to get booted, these are why.
At the end of the day, I like to stay optimistic. If I you get bumped, know your rights, enjoy your extra perks, and know you'll be traveling to your destination soon, possibly with some extra cash in your pocket.