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Would Bigger Incentives Make Bumping Passengers on Flights Okay?

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Would Bigger Incentives Make Bumping Passengers on Flights Okay?

After arriving two hours early, waiting in the never ending line for TSA, squeezing by other passengers in the cabin and somehow managing to cram my carry on in the overhead compartment, I too would be angry if I was told to deplane because the airline had overbooked. This is why it is shocking to learn about a passenger being dragged off a United Airlines flight because he refused to be bumped when he was randomly selected to do so. Flying is already an unenjoyable process, now passengers have to worry about whether or not they will actually fly at the time they paid for?

The Incident

The incident occurred on Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville on Sunday, April 10th. Because the airline had overbooked and four crew members waiting on standby were needed to work on a flight in Louisville on Monday, the United Airlines team attempted to gather volunteers to give up their seats. When no one stepped up, even after the incentive of $400 US and then $800 US in vouchers, plus a hotel stay was offered, the team took on a different approach. Four passengers were selected at random and were given no other choice, but to disembark the aircraft. A 69 year old male passenger was unwilling to cooperate and instead of selecting another random passenger (hopefully one more willing), the gate agent sought the help of airline security. The officers forcibly removed the man from the plane while being filmed by other passengers, horrified by the brutality taking place before them. Of course, a video of the incident went viral on social media, bringing to light the question of how the situation should have been handled.

Though it is common for airlines to deny boarding to passengers if a flight is overbooked, it is rare for this to happen after the passengers have already boarded the plane. Only once had I ever been called to the desk and asked if I could give up my seat for a crew member. To compensate for my sacrifice, I was provided a First Class seat instead and I happily accepted. My travel plans had not been affected in any way because I was on the same flight as before. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt like I had won the airplane lottery if I was denied arriving in my destination at the time I originally planned. However, for the right price, I can easily be swayed and I imagine most people feel the same way.

Incentive For Bumped Passengers

According to the Department of Transportation guidelines, passengers must be compensated twice the amount of the one way fare up to $675 US for delays between one and two hours, and a maximum of $1,350 US for more than a two hour delay. For some, this might not be enough of an incentive to adjust a travel itinerary and clearly, on Flight 3411, the incentive offered was not appealing enough to anyone. It is difficult to say whether or not a bigger incentive would have inspired the right amount of passengers to give up their seats freely, but passengers do need to be aware of the compensation they are entitled to if they are unfortunately selected to be bumped. Oftentimes, airlines will undersell the available incentive or worse now, drag passengers off the plane. Since United was unwilling to go any higher, they resorted to physical force, which is never okay. This one incident has destroyed the airline’s reputation, dropped their value in shares and is making frequent flyers question, why are flights overbooked in the first place?


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