HOLLYWOOD MOVIES like to
depict savvy travellers like 007 whizzing into the airport minutes
before the flight, busty blonde draped over one hand and a martini
in the other. Mr Bond always manages to find a vacant parking spot,
race to his gate and herd this unwieldy ensemble aboard as the engines
roar. No one asks him to take his shoes off at security and no one
bothers to examine his watch, which contains more lethal ordnance
than Batman’s utility belt.
There is a glaring
flaw in this scenario. The martini would be shaken, stirred and
spilled with all this heaving about. And, contrary to popular belief,
007 would not end up comfortably cruising in first, awaiting the
joys of the Mile High Club. He would, instead, get the bum’s
rush at check-in and find himself despatched to a Narita capsule
hotel, a victim of what airlines like to term, “denied boarding”.
In simple parlance, he would be “bumped off”. There’d
be no mile-high bonk. The blonde would desert him and Bond would
probably die of an overdose of MSG.
Send us your Feedback / Letter to the Editor
Share This Page
I make it a point
to arrive at the airport early. I have it a lot easier than Bond
as I do not normally cart blondes about on my arm though I do proudly
display blonde hair on my jacket. Okay so the hair belongs to my
dog, but who’s to know? I arrive the day before to catch my
flight because I do not relish the prospect of being bumped. Yes,
you may have a confirmed ticket, but that’s no insurance against
a flight that is rather fuller than its seat count might suggest.
Like Bond, I too often have blonde hair on my jacket. Okay so it's my dog's hair, but who's to know...
The fact is all
airlines accept more reservations for their flights than there are
seats available. Overbooking is a necessary evil, they say. Why?
Because a certain percentage of travellers always fail to turn up
despite holding confirmed tickets. These spoil-sports are called
“no-shows”. Airlines have no way of telling who might
end up a no-show despite sophisticated technology, follow-up calls
and detailed scans of the newspaper obituary columns. Hence, like
the proverbial bakers, they throw in a few extra confirmations for
good measure to protect their bottom line.
This is a science.
No-show trends are tracked along with the percentage odds of mystery
disappearances from city to city based on time of year, the weather
and the ongoing War on Terror, Nail-Clippers, Shoes and Iraqi-Manufactured
French Mustard. Based on these averages, flights are overbooked
accordingly. Things usually work out. Or do they?
According to the
US Department of Transportation, in 2002, a total of 836,986 passengers
were denied boarding in the US. If that is still the case it’s
a staggeringly high number of people taking off their shoes and
having thermometers thrust into various cavities for no particular
purpose. Of these 2002 figures 803,344 were “voluntary”.
I’ll come to this anomaly in a moment. Leading the chart on
“involuntary” denied boarding – which is where
people scream at the top of their lungs and are dragged off unceremoniously
– was Delta (9,222), followed by Southwest (7,928) and United
No-show trends are scientifically tracked based on follow-up phone calls and scans of the newspaper obituary columns
All this, however,
was against a figure of 467,204,981 enplaned passengers meaning
that only a fraction of people ended up in a capsule hotel or at
Burger King wondering what to do with their Delta Dollars (which
is what Delta likes to hand out).
According to the European Commission, around 250,000 passengers
each year get bumped at European airports. Statistics for Asia are
less keenly distributed but if you tried arriving late for a Chinese
New Year flight out of Hongkong in the days before sneezing chickens
made a pig’s breakfast of things, you would most certainly
find your travel arrangements shaken and stirred. The EU has taken
a tough line and doubled compensation for denied boarding. Starting
2005, the compensation has been set at US$743 for flights over 3,500km,
$495 for flights 1,500-3,500km and $310 for shorter trips.
This is all bad news for Russ Elder and his family of five that,
according to the New York Times, “has been bumped at least
once on nearly every trip they have taken for the past few years.”
Elder says his “hobby” has enabled the family to travel
extensively. How? He simply volunteers his family to get bumped
on overbooked flights and accepts the cash and ticket handouts.
Compensation on international flights can vary from $350 to $750
depending on the inconvenience caused. On domestic US sectors rates
range from $200 for delays up to three hours to $600 for anything
above six hours. Passengers may be offered free tickets –
but these are sans frequent flier miles. For the skinny on recent
compensation levels, visit the lively and informative www.BumpTracker.com.
Learn from Russ Elder. Arrive 90 minutes before your flight with
just hand baggage – and start earning.
Send us your Feedback / Letter to the Editor