I don’t know the stats on how often this happens, but this past holiday season, I had the misfortune to be on a flight that was overbooked. No, no one I know lost a limb or had a freak holiday baking accident, so I realize how petty my complaint is in the overall grand scheme of things. But let me tell you how frustrating being third on the standby list is when you bought your ticket weeks in advance and were at the airport to check-in more than an hour in advance (this is Burlington, Vermont, not JFK – usually an hour is more than enough time).
I arrived, innocently thinking my biggest issue was going to be my golf clubs, and was informed at the counter not only that I was on the standby list, but that all remaining flights until Tuesday were booked. It was Sunday morning.
I won’t go into depths about the rudeness of the woman I was dealing with behind the counter because I’m assuming that she had people screaming at her all morning about how infuriating overbooking is and so some bitchiness is to be expected. But I did inform her, probably not for the first time, that overbooking was a terrible business model and that people were making plans based on the ability of her company to follow through with little details like having a seat on a plane for someone who has purchased a ticket.
I was inconvenienced. The couple in front of me needing to get home to their child was pretty livid. The woman going to meet her husband, in the states on break from a tour in the middle east, was in tears. The scene at gate 8 was not a happy one. A passenger who had just landed, whose bag had been torn to shreds in transit on US Airways, felt the need to use profanity at a high decibel and swear he was never traveling on US Airways again. This outburst made me feel better for two reasons. I felt better having not lost my temper, but he also said everything I was thinking and trying to refrain from saying.
I understand that airlines need all the money they can get right now. I understand that air travel companies are hurting and while I grumble about having to pay $40 for a checked bag … I get that they need the money and I can deal with it. I am okay with not getting meals too, they were pretty nasty to begin with. I even understand delays. As long as I get where I’m going, I can wait. It’s usually still a heck of a lot faster than driving or taking a bus or walking.
But when someone has bought a ticket, planned a vacation or a trip, all the details that go with someone planning on being somewhere, you can’t tell them that you oversold the flight and they will only get on if someone else has opted to get off the plane. Don’t sell them the ticket! It’s not like they don’t know how many seats are on the plane. And while I know if I got there earlier to check in I would have made the flight, I still think it’s ridiculous and that me having spent money and gotten my confirmation email should be enough to get me on the plane. Would we tolerate ordering something on line, getting the email about it being sent and then hearing someone got to the post office to pick it up earlier and so it’s gone? This policy should not be tolerated.
I vowed never to fly US Airways again. Instead, I got to my destination on JetBlue, an amazing airline that doesn’t oversell their planes, offers more leg room, delicious Blue chips and individual TVs. The ticket was a little more expensive, but I wasn’t charged for my checked bag and JetBlue did this amazing thing and got me to my destination.