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More Overbooked Flights

Posted on 19th April 2017

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There has been more news about people being bumped off overbooked flights.

This BBC news story describes how a couple going on vacation to Catania in Sicily were removed from an EasyJet flight from Luton, after boarding, due to overbooking, and told that the next EasyJet flight to their destination was in four days time. They were not told that they had a right to be rebooked onto another airline the same day at EasyJet's cost, and not offered compensation, in flagrant violation of EU rules. The couple had booked non-refundable accommodation for 6 nights, and decided to cancel their trip, despite the cost. That is what can happen if you fly without knowing your rights!

In the other case, reported here by the BBC, a family tried to check in online, and were left with boarding passes for all members of the family except their 10 year old son. Clearly, leaving the 10 year old to find his way back home alone, and fend for himself for a week, was neither acceptable nor legal, so they travelled to two other airports, trying to find alternative flights; eventually they found flights from Montreal, spending an additional C$1,000 on the new flights. Since then, they have complained to Air Canada, and have been offered a C$2,500 voucher, along with an apology; I don't consider that anywhere near enough compensation.

I know that many airlines have problems with online check-in of groups of people travelling together; I have had problems with this myself. Even if everyone in the party gets a seat, which is by no means guaranteed, separate check-in usually results in being seated apart, which is certainly not acceptable when young children, sick or disable passengers are involved. Online check-in is the best way to avoid being bumped from overbooked flights (apart from flying business or first class, which most of us cannot afford), but families and groups are often forced to check-in at the airport (i.e. last-minute) if they want to sit together. There is clearly something wrong with the computer systems and processes used by airlines, if it results in a child being left without a seat, and it needs to be fixed.

The killer is that, typically, if the other members of a group choose not to fly because a member of the party cannot get a seat, the forego their right to compensation, since the contracts to fly are separate, and they are deemed to have "voluntarily" chosen not to fly.

The airline business is a tough business to be in: many airline have been bailed out by governments, and most struggle to make a profit. Airlines have discretion about whether to offer compensation in some cases, but when it comes to compensation to which passengers are legally entitled, they need to stop sidestepping their obligations and pay up, without being asked or even threatened.

My girlfriend almost always pays the small extra fee to have travel insurance, and that is probably a good idea. Insurance, however, will still not compensate travellers for many of the problems of families and other groups travelling together, because, again, the insurance contracts are separate for each traveller. We need our airlines to be more honest and responsible; if they won't, there will be more regulations to impose that honest and responsible behaviour on them.