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Insta-CoGo: You're Bumped, and Out of Luck

Cindy Loose

This just in: Not only was 2007 the second worst year ever for flights being late, but airlines bumped passengers at the highest rate in 11 years.

The 18 largest airlines last year found 621,717 people willing to switch to other flights voluntarily; they typically offer incentives like a voucher for a free flight. However, airlines couldn't always find volunteers. The upshot: Last year, 63,878 passengers were involuntarily denied boarding -- a rate of 1.12 per 10,000 passengers.

Just to make things worse, getting an alternative flight is likely to take longer than it used to, because planes are so full these days.

The major carrier with the worst involuntary bumping problem: Delta, with a rate of 2.47 per 10,000. A Delta spokeswoman said the airline had formed a team to find ways to reduce the problem.

CoGo can help! Let's have a team meeting right now to find ways to reduce the problem: Okay everybody. What should we do? Oh yeah, stop massively overbooking flights. Any questions? Good. Meeting over.

The U.S. government is considering forcing airlines to pay more to passengers denied boarding. What seems to you a fair amount?

By Cindy Loose |  February 7, 2008; 9:51 AM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Cindy Loose , Insta-CoGo
Previous: It Came From the Chat: Cats on a Plane! | Next: What's the Deal: An Airfare Crystal Ball?

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I think actually giving people vouchers they can use would go a long way. I got stuck with a $100 voucher that I was never able to redeem because all the seats I could use the voucher for were sold out for months on end. As a result, I'm unlikely to ever volunteer giving up my seat.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 7, 2008 10:13 AM

I would definately never give up a seat for $100. Sometimes they'll up the ante quite significantly, though. The trick is, even if the amount of the voucher is significant, is to know what restrictions there are. Some vouchers basically just allow you to compete with frequent flyers for available ff seats; others are like money to spend on whatever seat is available for sale. The other important issue: Know for sure when they will be able to get you on another seat. Could be they can get you on another plane in an hour, could be a looong time, so ask before you accept. If you have to wait overnight, be sure they're going to pay for a hotel room.

Posted by: cindy loose | February 7, 2008 10:40 AM

Ha! Cindy, I love your meeting transcript. Hey, Airlines: it is not that complicated. Less overbooking = less misery.

Posted by: h3 | February 7, 2008 11:26 AM

Yeah, I don't get what's so difficult about the concept "If we stop overbooking so much, we won't have to bump so many passengers."

As for compensation, $1,000 cash (not bouchers) plus covering all expenses incurred as a result - hotel, meals, rental car, whatever.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 7, 2008 11:47 AM

There should be no bumping allowed. Airlines should keep raising their offers ($400, $500, $600...) until enough people have volunteered. It will be up to the airlines to manage their over-booking so that they don't lose money on the volunteers. A market-based solution!

Posted by: Anonymous | February 7, 2008 3:18 PM

One in 10,000 is as horrible as you make it sound. If you take one flight each day, you can expect to be involuntarily bumped once in 30 years. Big deal. I guess it's bad if it happens to you. But actually, one in 10,000 is less often than you are refused seating in a restaurant even though you have a reservation, or there's no room at the hotel even though you have a confirmed reservation. Once in 10,000 flights is pretty rare.

Posted by: Tom | February 7, 2008 3:55 PM

That's out of 10,000 passengers, not flights.

Posted by: math whiz | February 7, 2008 4:42 PM

I volunteered 2 times, once, I wasn't elligible because of my connecting flight, the other time I wasn't needed afterall. That time when I was finally able to board, there was no overhead space left for my carry on near my seat. Under the seat infront of me it went, and I was kicking myself for volunteering the entire flight. For me, no leg room = agonizing flight.

Posted by: rja112 | February 8, 2008 2:29 AM

I'm a big fan of immediate rewards, i.e. I'll volunteer to be bumped but I want first class on my substitute flight. If that doesn't work, I've had some luck with upgrades on the return leg. The vouchers I never seem to use. I miss the days when they handed out cash, not vouchers!

Posted by: Corey | February 8, 2008 11:07 AM

Right, passengers, not flights. My math is so bad I'm afraid to do this, but here goes: If you assume there are 400 people per flight, then chances are someone will be bumped on one out of every 25 flights. If you assume 200 people per flight, then every 50 flights will yield a bump, right?

Posted by: cindy loose | February 8, 2008 11:11 AM

Arithmetic isn't my strong point, but I'll add this thought: bumps tend to come in groups, so maybe it's more like, a couple of people every hundred flights?

Posted by: h3 | February 8, 2008 2:13 PM

(I mean, they're not evenly spaced across flights, right? A lot of flights have plenty of space, and some end up bumping three or four people.)

Posted by: h3 | February 8, 2008 2:14 PM

Math wiz is wrong. Your expectation of being involuntarily bumped if you fly every single day would be to be bumped once in 30 years. The fact somebody else on a flight that you travel on is bumped is not relevent. Your chances of being involuntarily bumped are much less than your chances on not being able to see the doctor on a day when you have an appointment or not being admitted to the hospital on a day when you have surgery scheduled.

Posted by: Tom | February 8, 2008 5:52 PM

I understand that we all want cheap seats. With that, we need to understand that the airlines need to be able to turn a profit so the flights will be full. So, they need to overbook to ensure that they are able to continue cheap seats.
I refuse to give up my seat for a coupon for a full fare seat that I may never be able to use. I used to be nice and be bumped to assist others...no longer. I have three coupons that are almost ready to expire as no flights that I need to take are part of the ever diminishing areas that these flights are able to be used. Give me cash, give me upgrades for the next flight, give me upgrade coupons WITH the coupons, give me more than one flight coupon....make it worth my while to make it easier for the airline. Check in on line 24 hours in advance and you should not be bumped against your will.

Posted by: antshe | February 8, 2008 6:27 PM

Umm, didn't you ask this same exact question back in October?
http://blog.washingtonpost.com/travellog/2007/10/overbooked.html

Come on - no recycling, please!

Posted by: adub | February 12, 2008 1:38 PM

Dear Adub---I felt that new information about bumping incidences, the fact they are at record levels, and the fact that Delta has the worst rate, were all worth knowing. Plus, the Dept. of Transportation is nearing a decision on what to do, so the question has new urgency.

Posted by: cindy loose | February 12, 2008 3:00 PM

!BINGO! The comment made at 3:18 PM on Feb.7. A market based solution. Excellent! Nothing personal, it's just business... Not to mention ethical as well.

Posted by: mytunic | February 13, 2008 1:27 PM

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