A traveler in her early twenties was flying from Washington to Chicago for an interview. We had been unable to obtain a seat assignment, however we had a confirmed reservation. The client called from the airport and asked if we could help her get on a flight later that day.
When I asked if she missed the flight, the client explained she had checked in over an hour in advance, been told they couldn’t accommodate her as the flight was oversold, but would try to get her out later as a standby. I saw a seat on a flight leaving in an hour and booked it. I suggested that the traveler return to the check-in desk. At that point apparently the airline gave her a boarding pass — but nothing more.
Here’s another story. A client was checking in without a seat assignment, and was asked if they could put her on a later flight with a seat assignment. No mention was made of compensation. She said no, and called to see what to do. We told her to stay put, make sure she was within hearing distance of the gate, and that the airline should give her a seat 30 minutes prior. Which they did. In fact, it was a premium economy seat.
A third client was on a early nonstop flight from San Francisco to Washington, Dulles, Sunday morning. The plane had a mechanical problem and returned to the gate. After an hour, the airline advised the passengers that they had a new plane, but it would be smaller and they wouldn’t be able to accommodate everyone.
The client contacted me at home and asked for ideas. I gave him a couple connecting flights choices that were open on other airlines (the airline was sold out all day even with connections). I suggested he ask to be on the nonstop, but failing that be put on a competitor so he could make it to D.C.
In the end, that the airline told him they could not put him on the nonstop (almost certainly because he was not an elite-level flier), but they accepted the second option, and changed his ticket. I asked if they had given him anything else, and he said, “No, but they had seemed harassed and overwhelmed.”
Since the new flight was leaving shortly, the only option at that point was to have him contact customer service through the airline’s Web site and note that he is hoping for compensation. The second client made it on her flight, so it wasn’t an issue in the end, but she confirmed that they offered her a seat assignment on a later flight, with no offer of money or a voucher at all. The first client, however, decided not to pursue anything as she got there just about two hours late, and “doesn’t like to make trouble.”
What do these incidents have in common, other than that none of these clients were compensated? All of these flights were on United Airlines.
My sense is that these missed connection are more a result of overworked airport personnel than deliberate airline policy, but for travelers who are not aware of their rights, such uncompensated changes probably total a fair amount of money for the airlines involved.
For air travelers, however, as we go into the busy summer season, it probably means being extra vigilant, both about checking in on time, and (politely) asking for compensation when bumped. (Taking it out on airport personnel who have probably had their pay and hours cut already is never a good idea.)
In cases where there’s really not enough time to argue and also make to a backup flight, the best solution is to get on the plane, but keep every piece of information you have, the name of who you spoke to, the details on the original and new flight, and the total length of the delay. Armed with that, you have a better chance of getting denied boarding compensation after the fact.
Also, while on most flights I can find an aisle or window at some point before the departure, I have started confirming middle seats when there is no alternative, instead of leaving just a request in the record. And I would advise travelers booking direct to do the same thing. If you check in on time, they may not be able to improve your seat, but they can’t give it away either.
And here’s a question for readers: Have you noticed any case of these uncompensated bumpings, or attempted bumpings, when flying lately? Sometimes it’s hard to know whether the stories you hear are just from the world’s unluckiest people, or if it’s an epidemic problem.