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Airlines aren't going to stop overbooking.

Jess McHugh
April 14, 2017

In the wake of the forcible removal of a passenger from a United Airlines flight, governments and airlines have been reexamining their overbooking policies.

While overbooking was not the cause of the United incident — the passenger was bumped to make room for a United employee — it has sparked a larger dialogue about passengers' rights, particularly when it comes to being refused a seat for which they have paid.

The U.S. Senate and the U.S. Department of Transportation announced investigations following the United incident, while other airlines issued their own responses, vowing never to treat their passengers in the same manner.

Canada’s Transport Minister Marc Garneau reiterated a vow made in the fall of 2016 to create a passenger’s bill of rights in his home country. The bill, slated for sometime in spring of 2017, will include a section to clarify bumping rules.

Unsurprisingly, airlines have already begun to push back on the process of further regulation.

“I don't think we need to have additional legislation to try to control how the airlines run their businesses,” Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told the Associated Press. “The key is managing it before you get to the boarding process.”

The odds of being bumped are at the lowest rate they've been in the past 26 years, AP reported, with just one in 16,000 passengers getting bumped. United in particular has an even lower rate, bumping just one in every 23,000.

Overbooking is allowed under federal law, and it can even be good for passengers in some situations. By overselling flights under the assumption that some people will not show up, airlines are able to consistently fly full flights which can help to keep airfares cheaper.

For passengers with some flexibility, overbooking also allows for the chance to make some money. One family received $11,000 in vouchers and gift certificates after they willingly opted out of overbooked flights.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to overbooking is that passengers need to know their own rights. Each airline has their own “contract of carriage” that dictates the rules surrounding under what circumstances a carrier can bump a passenger from their flight, Kathy Grannis Allen, managing director of communications for Airlines for America, told Travel + Leisure.

Incidents of overbooking have almost always involved taking volunteers to give up their seat, while offering escalating rewards to sweeten the pot if there are no takers at first.

Passengers should check directly with the Department of Transportation as well as their airline for up to date information.

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