135 points by stygiansonic 5 months ago
It's been discussed on HN before , but it's worth mentioning in this thread that there's a YC-backed company – Volantio – working to solve this specific problem.
Most airlines' position is that they have to oversell flights, otherwise planes will fly with empty seats unnecessarily.
But from passengers' point of view, there aren't always enough people who'll voluntarily accept an offer to transfer to a different flight once they are at the gate awaiting boarding [this sentence was edited in response to kortilla's comment below].
Volantio's product applies sophisticated analysis to each flight's booking levels well before departure time (days or weeks before), and will send offers to passengers to offer incentives to transfer to less-full flights, allowing plenty of time for them to change their plans.
So far the product seems to be having an impact for passengers , gate staff  and airline management .
Disclosure: Volantio was a pivot from Adioso (YC W09), of which I was a co-founder. I'm no longer an active employee or significant shareholder. However I remain friends with the team and am pleased to see them doing well and solving an important problem.
> But from passengers' point of view, there aren't always enough people who'll voluntarily accept an offer to transfer to a different flight once they are at the gate awaiting boarding
There are; they just won't accept any offer. Most of the airline offers I have been offered in this situation were paltry: reschedule and some airline "credit".
Give me a partial or full refund, and I'll be much more willing to volunteer. Otherwise, you're seeing passengers value their time higher than some credit and lost time.
I've seen some very lucrative offers. Like $500 credit, upgrade to first class tomorrow, AND a 4-star hotel room. That might not be the norm, but that's a pretty amazing deal.
I was held at checkin for an Economy Plus BA flight from San Diego to London and they asked for volunteers to get the next flight (same time the next day) and you would get $800 cash (prepaid credit card) and a hotel room for the night.
A few people took the offer, I didn't. As a result they denied me boarding and gave me the exact same deal, except it was a $1250 pre-paid credit card. I never expected to be quite so happy about not being allowed on a plane.
At least in the US, involuntarily getting bumped from a flight requires mandatory compensation in some instances (if the arrival delay is >1 hour): https://www.transportation.gov/individuals/aviation-consumer...
There was a story a little while back that claims that customers may not actually get those credits. Basically, this guy only got it because the media picked up on it.
I was pulled off an Ethiad flight in Abu Dhabi back in 2011. They gave be a night in a 4-star hotel, 3 free meals and $300 in credit which never got used.
They were asking everyone and most people refused. I should have bartered harder to get an upgrade to business.
Wouldn't exactly say so. They always escalate their offers, starts off being quite meager, but eventually a few hundred bucks credit plus a hotel isn't bad.
On the flip side, I've seen an offer which looked extremely tempting, except I don't think my employer which was paying for the flights would have seen it that way...
> Most airlines' position is that they have to oversell flights, otherwise planes will fly with empty seats unnecessarily.
With most fares nowadays being non-refundable, why should the airlines care whether the seat is empty or not? It's paid for. If it's empty, that's a bonus because they save a little bit of fuel, time at the gate, and the passengers adjacent to the empty seat have a better experience. Empty seats that are paid for should be a win-win.
Because if a seat is sold twice but only used one that's more profit than if every seat is only sold once. Most businesses maximise profits, not passenger experience (and those that work on passenger experience do so because they've decided that's their way to increase profits and they'll do so in a cost effective way).
Airlines say that this means all the seats on a flight can be a bit cheaper as the cost of operating the flight is shared amongst more people but I'm skeptical of that. Businesses like free money and only pass that on as lower prices due to competition when they really have to.
> Because if a seat is sold twice but only used one that's more profit than if every seat is only sold once.
Well, yeah, but that badly misses the point. Selling any product twice is more profitable than selling it only once, all else being equal. But in most industries, selling the same product twice is considered unacceptable. In fact, it would be considered fraud. The story that the airlines tell to make people think it should be acceptable in their industry is clearly bogus.
One valid reason for this practice is the existence of fully flexible fares, that can be switched at late notice. So there is always some uncertainty about exactly how many ticket holders will be wanting to board a given flight.
As for the rest, I dunno, maybe give them a break. Margins run at about 1%, give or take, so two empty seats matters. Heavy financial losses and bankruptcies are common for airlines.
On the practical side, people like to get to their destinations at their preferred time, so it’s good that airlines try and serve people by getting as many people as possible onto their preferred flight. And for environmental reasons people like to know that capacity/fuel isn’t being wasted.
Having worked with airlines for a long time, I’m no great lover of their business practices, but on this topic we can do a bit better than just presuming them to be greedy, exploitative monsters.
> One valid reason for this practice is the existence of fully flexible fares
Airlines are under no obligation to offer fully flexible fares. If they screw up the business model so badly, maybe the answer is to simply stop offering them.
Flexible fares matter a lot, both to customers (mostly business travellers with uncertain schedules) and airline economics.
They don't screw up the business model, the business model relies on it. Without these fares, everyone would be paying more and flexible passengers would be inconvenienced.
But the presence or absence of flexible fares doesn't change the fact that the precise number of passengers trying to board is uncertain, and that will always create a complex optimization problem if you care about both efficiency and customer satisfaction.
No, it's not complicated at all. Just sell "standby" tickets and "guaranteed seat" tickets.
The problem is that right now every ticket is effectively a standby ticket, and this is buried in the fine print.
I keep explaining to you, in good faith, based on 10+ years in this industry, why things aren't all they seem, and you keep inventing new reasons why it really should be that simple but that you seem to think nobody has thought of yet.
A lot of people have thought a lot about these problems for a long time now.
Many of them are both clever and well-intentioned.
I understand that last sentence is where we differ.
So I guess we're done here.
> I guess we're done here.
You've chosen to invoke an Argument By Authority, so I guess you're right.
> If they screw up the business model so badly, maybe the answer is to simply stop offering them.
The problem is that there is lots of competition backed by heavy state funding that can weather out bad events (e.g. a 9/11 scenario with a general downturn, or something as simple as a volcano eruption, or mundane such as strikes of any kind of personnel).
The other smaller airlines have to keep up with the offering of the big giants even if they're unsustainable or risky or they risk directly going out of business.
Allowing airlines to oversell has the effect, in a competitive market, of reducing ticket prices for everyone else.
Put another way: banning oversell would mean that airlines routinely travel with more empty seats. This inefficiency would show through in higher ticket prices.
> In fact, it would be considered fraud.
Fraud involves deception. This doesn't apply in a market environment where it is widely known that they oversell.
The downside is that a free market isn't very good at adjusting to unlikely individual events.
I favour the legislative model in which airlines are permitted to oversell but there is statutory compensation due to anyone who is bumped. This provides the counterbalance to airlines taking it too far in risk to passengers.
I think the Right Answer is for the airlines to sell two different ticket classes: guaranteed seats, which may not be oversold, and standby seats, which can be. That way everyone knows what they're getting.
Standby seats will just jam up the airport and security. Most shoppers will search for the cheapest flight, the airline will sell it as a bargain with the requisite disclaimers that no one reads, and when 100 standby ticket holders show up to the airport all hell will break lose.
Do remember you can't pass security without a confirmed seat. They can't load your luggage without you being confirmed and through security. If every flight on every airline tried this as SOP it would turn out really badly.
If you think I'm kidding check the news around a major holiday with inclement weather. Hoardes of people with standby tickets waiting in terminals, camping out in whatever floorspace they can find. Sounds pretty damn dystopian.
> Standby seats will just jam up the airport and security.
No more than they do now. The only difference between what I'm proposing and what is currently done is that the people who get bumped if too many people show up "volunteer" ahead of time.
You absolutely can and many do pass security without a confirmed seat.
That's the practice in the article, passing ticket holders along and telling them the seat will be assigned at the gate, well after baggage is checked and security lines have been waited.
Selling standby seats at the same/similar overbook ratio as they currently do wouldn't lead to any more of a dystopia then we currently have.
I wonder what the effects would be if the airlines had to put a clear statement directly above the "buy now" button, like "You might not be allowed to take this flight if too many people turn up for it, see our compensation policy if this happens here". It shouldn't make a difference at all if it's actually "widely known" to all participants, but I suspect it actually isn't.
While I seriously doubt that overselling is really widely known, it is also quite an assumption that repeating a widely known fact has no effect on customer behavior.
As something between data and anecdata to support that statement, I've seen measured conversion rates indicate that customers cancel an online shopping deal after they have already agreed to it, after being redirected to PayPal. Those numbers were way too high to indicate just users who couldn't remember their passwords, so we assumed (here's the non-data part) that they jumped off when they realized that they have to log into PayPal and pay real money now. And those things are widely known, certainly so to a customer who has paid with PayPal in the past.
> Allowing airlines to oversell has the effect, in a competitive market, of reducing ticket prices for everyone else.
No. You have to calculate for compensations for the people who have to be left behind because the flight was oversold. As you can read in the comments, those compensations can come in quite expensive. And rebooking passengers to other flights means that you can't sell that specific seat at the right price.
> Put another way: banning oversell would mean that airlines routinely travel with more empty seats. This inefficiency would show through in higher ticket prices.
Again: No. You have 100 seats, you sell 100 tickets. People have to show up to fly with you, no refunds if you don't show up. If this type of calculation does not cover your costs as the airline, you have a bigger problem in general.
> Fraud involves deception. This doesn't apply in a market environment where it is widely known that they oversell.
I find it highly deceptive that somebody is trying to sell me a seat which he has already sold and is now hoping that one buyer does not show up. To be honest, selling the same good twice and only delivering once could very well be a definition of fraud. Try that on some kind of marketplace and you will find yourself in quite some trouble in no time.
> You have to calculate for compensations for the people who have to be left behind because the flight was oversold.
Sure, but factor those in and you still end up being able to offer cheaper ticket prices by overselling. It is clear that this is true from existing market behaviour.
> You have 100 seats, you sell 100 tickets. People have to show up to fly with you, no refunds if you don't show up.
That is one way of running an airline. However, given that some proportion of passengers change their plans in practice, overselling will cause a reduction of ticket prices in a competitive environment. This is just textbook economics and I'm not sure how I can explain this concept better to you.
> If this type of calculation does not cover your costs as the airline, you have a bigger problem in general.
The airline industry disagrees with you.
> I find it highly deceptive that somebody is trying to sell me a seat which he has already sold and is now hoping that one buyer does not show up.
You can find it to be whatever you want, but it is legal and not fraud. Wishing it to be fraud doesn't make it so. You could seek to make overselling illegal. If this were to happen then it would be illegal, but still not fraud.
> You can find it to be whatever you want, but it is legal and not fraud.
It's fraud and it's legal. Which is why the EU cracks down on it pretty hard with large settlements, fines, and the passing of passenger bill of rights. In this thread alone you see passengers offered $100s - $1000s in compensation. Do you think those airlines wanted to pay out compensation? Those fines are statute according to the terms of passenger rights, which you will find printed on the back of every ticket.
Just like speeding, most don't get caught. But just because they don't does not make it any less illegal.
it's flagrant scamming , I don't know who's paying you to lobby for them but your goals aren't aligned with your fellow man
I don't know who you work for . But you care too much about corporate profits and not enough about humans
I'm not employed in any related industry. I do travel for work, so if anything I'm more impacted on the consumer side as a frequent traveller.
However, the consumer has voted, again and again, for cheaper airline tickets over anything else. If that's what they want, then banning overselling would be contrary to that as it would cause ticket prices to rise.
I live in the EU and am quite happy with the current statutory compensation arrangements here.
I'm ambivalent about overselling, but I think your argument is flawed. Consumers can only "vote" for what's on offer, and you cannot individually escape a prisoner's dilemma/race to the bottom scenario without making yourself worse off.
I agree and this is what I meant by "The downside is that a free market isn't very good at adjusting to unlikely individual events" above.
Since banning overselling would increase ticket prices, there will inevitably be some passengers who would suffer as a result. Statistically we'd find that some passengers can no longer afford to go on holiday, etc. These passengers surely want a cheaper ticket so they have _some_ opportunity still.
Instead, I think the most reasonable solution is to allow oversell but enforce adequate compensation by statute, which is what we have today in many places.
The difficulty is in deciding what constitutes adequate compensation. Too much and we'll be back to the "no oversell but inefficient and therefore high ticket price" situation. Too little and traveling would be a mandatory gamble that passengers might be wiped out (eg. a weekend away ruined with no compensation to go again another time, etc). A balance is needed. Banning overselling completely however is I think too far in the wrong direction.
In most industries, selling the same product twice is considered unacceptable.
There are a lot of businesses which sell you a service assuming some "average" load. Web hostings, insurance companies for example.
That's even before I start whinging about my monthly train ticket.
But in pretty much any profession there's a chance of a promise not been met. If that happened I would expect an apology, and some kind of a remediation. For extra credit a small token of appreciation would also be nice.
If they know the s’est is going to be empty, they can sell it again.
Sure. The problem is that they sell it again without knowing that it's going to be empty.
(Some) Airlines make money selling to passengers. For example - Ryanair’s entire business model revolves around selling you extras.
No passenger, no profit.
Intrigued by how this works days or weeks before (except in the case of an aircraft swap being known in advance) given that the extent to which passengers will turn up in numbers greater than originally estimated is generally only known at check in stage, probably <24h before departure.
Still, even communication on the morning of the flight beats finding out at the airport (Gold standard for poor service goes to airBerlin, who somehow managed not to inform me that they'd actually cancelled my entire flight days before until I turned up for it in Greece with a handful of other bemused holidaymakers, most of whom unlike me hadn't booked direct. I'd have accepted a much less expensive and more flexible date for an alternative flight though.)
Here's a presentation they did to the Skift travel conference a few months ago, which explains it well:
>But from passengers' point of view, few people are willing to voluntarily accept an offer to transfer to a different flight once they are at the gate awaiting boarding, even if the offer is quite generous.
This is blatantly false. I fly all the time and I see this happen about every other time at a neighboring gate. Gate agent announced flight is oversold, makes an offer. Several people volunteer. End of story.
You don’t hear about these events because they (used to) happen hundreds of times a day all over the US with no hassle.
Then the stupidity of United and the ignorant backlash of the public ruined it. Infrequent fliers associated overselling with the United incident and completely ignored the functioning 99.9% of cases that benefited all fliers overall.
Volantio’s product is ok, but it’s not a substitute to the problem overbooking was solving, nor is it better for passengers who were flexible with last minute changes (because the offers are worse since rebooks days in advance don’t solve the last minute flex fare changes).
Ugh, sorry about the rant but this whole oversale thing is a perfect example of the outrage culture damaging a mostly functional market due to sheer ignorance.
Fair enough, I've toned down that sentence.
That said, though I can sympathise with the frustration, I've learned that sentiments like "ignorant backlash of the public" and "outrage culture damaging a mostly functional market due to sheer ignorance" don't get us to good solutions.
As you said, the problem is a real one, and Volantio has shown that it can be significantly reduced through smart application of technology well before departure time.
"Then the stupidity of United and the ignorant backlash of the public ruined it. Infrequent fliers associated overselling with the United incident and completely ignored the functioning 99.9% of cases that benefited all fliers overall."
The United incident had nothing to do with overbooking.
While true, that doesn't really contradict the idea that "infrequent fliers associated overselling with the United incident".
Why the downvote?
1. Unites flight was not overbooked. They wanted to put some of their own employees on this flight. This has nothing to do with overbooking.
2. Law stats that you can deny boarding if a flight is overbooked. Let someone on board and then throw him off the plane was definitely not within the scope of the law, even should the flight have been overbooked. Try to tell this to the authorities, "we let more people on board than seats available and had to remove some..". Good luck with that.
So based on 1 and 2 the airline was wise to settle with the guy ASAP since throwing him off the plane had nothing to do with overbooking, nor was it in any way covered by law.
Proof that you are an idiot. Downvote this :-)
Agreed. It’s pretty rare for the airlines to not find the volunteers they need. Often they need to bump up the comp to get them, but they get them.
In fact, I’ve volunteered a few times. If I’m flying back home to visit family, arriving one day later isn’t a big deal when the airline pays for a hotel room, meals and offers enough comp that I could fly back home twice.
Well done, Adioso was fantastic.
Indeed - I still use it (among others) more or less any time I'm looking for flights.
It was tomhoward's cofounder Fenn Bailey that also first introduced me to "microcaching" with nginx via some blog post many years back, a trick which has been of much use over the years.
Microcaching is fantastically useful. Way back when, when Edgeio hosted Crunchboard (the Techcrunch job board), we added it to deal with the load it imposed. I don't remember if I'd read about it anywhere first, or was just desperately trying things to avoid it hammering our database.
[For anyone not clear on what is meant: Microcaching is the idea of doing caching with really short time intervals, maybe as low as a second. The point is to set the TTL for the cached data so short that users will rarely if ever notice stale data even for dynamically updated content. The upside is that even a 1 second cache time for a heavily requested page means only 1 request per second per frontend for that resources hits your backend, no matter how much your traffic increases. Super-short TTLs often allow you to cache resources that you otherwise couldn't, and still get a hard upper bound on the load they'll impose]
Awesome, great to hear!
That micro-caching trick was so cool. It wasn't actually for Adioso, but for the Falls Festival, a huge New Years Eve outdoor music festival here in Australia. The coolest application we heard about for that technique was when Google did a doodle for Robert Moog's 78th Birthday , and the Moog company's humble little website got hammered.
Ha, found (via the wayback machine) the original article and also an HN discussion about it back then too. Fenn didn't mention who it was for, "just some friends" - I guess I figured out the connection and linked it to Adioso in my memory.
Many thanks. BTW, Adioso is not dead, it's resting. We spun it out of Volantio so I could rebuild it only without all the mistakes. Stay tuned.
Seems that nobody is reading the article.
Yes, pretty much all airlines are overselling. However, Air Canada employees speaking on condition of anonymity are stating that business as usual for the airline is to string customers along until the last minute, even if it is known well in advance that they are not going to be boarding. That is to say, passengers with GTE on the gate indication of the boarding pass will not be boarding but are lied to and told that they will be assigned a seat at the gate.
Regardless your views on overselling, you probably take a very different view about being lied to about your likelihood of boarding a flight as you check in.
Absolutely. To some degree I understand overselling†, and I also know that airlines don't know who's going to show or not, but passengers should be made aware and given options. With non-refundable tickets you're committed to the airlines, they should have a commitment to you. If they choose to oversell, they should be transparant and give you the option of adjusting your plans... Instead of pretenting you're on the flight but you're actually flying standby.
Frequent travelers know that getting a boarding pass with a seat number actually a race they don't want to lose, and will hound the call center if there's a problem with online check-in.
† Personally I think that airlines regulated and given two options for overselling flights:
1) If you miss your flight, and a paid passenger takes your place, you should be informed and not suffer financial consequences (re-booking fees, etc).
2) If the airlines has already sold a full flight and starts knowingly overselling, it should be communicated to the passenger when they buy the ticket ('priority standby' or something). This would, of course, make customers value these tickets less.
Yes, I can understand overselling as well, but it should be a gamble on the part of the airlines that they don't want to lose. It seems that in many places there are too few ramifications for losing this particular gamble.
I think the EU regulations regarding denied boarding are pretty good (or at least a good start).
I'm not surprised airlines do this. I don't think it is just Air Canada. In a way it makes sense but it does make me think they are a bit greedy.
If someone buys a ticket and does not show up for a flight then usually they don't get a refund/credit (or a crappy one: I'm looking at you United).
But now the airline has an empty seat. The best thing to do is fill it. But you can't fill it the last moment so you need to overbook. But if you overbook too much then you need to start bumping people off. So the airline gets to keep all the revenue from the overbooking as well as the fees for the refund which can be substantial. It's a bit like double dipping.
> But you can't fill it the last moment
I remember as a kid flying "standby". You got a cheap ticket but had to sit around until a seat opened up. What killed standby tickets? Post-9/11 security hell?
They still exist
If airplanes routinely fly with empty seats, that means they need more airplanes flying to move the passengers. This isn't very environmentally friendly.
People should support airplanes flying full.
Full-ish, yes. But optimising for efficiency always comes at a cost to resilience, and bumping passengers at the last minute has real environmental and wellbeing costs, too.
Ok, so environmentalism doesn't matter if it's inconvenient.
The US airlines make on avg $17.75 per passenger with a profit margin of about 9%.
That's pretty far from greedy.
The very next sentence after that quote is:
> This per-passenger profit is roughly double what airlines around the world make per passenger, according to the International Air Transport Association
I was thinking 9% is a pretty decent return!
Is this only a North American thing? I've flown hundreds of times within Europe over the last few years, and every single time I've had a seat assigned at online check in, usually 24-72hrs before boarding depending on airline.
I've seen lines of standby passengers at Frankfurt, waiting at the gate just in case they get lucky at the last minute, but knowing in advance that they don't have a seat on that plane unless somebody else fails to turn up; and I'd assumed that the European carriers probably do overbook but manage it at check in time; I've never seen or heard of anyone ever getting turned away at the gate when they already had a boarding pass.
I suspect it's rarer in Europe because the mandatory compensation costs of failing to put a passenger on a flight close to the originally scheduled time are so high.
That said, I've had a gate agent try very hard to bump me off an intra-EU flight which I assume was due to overbooking (I was on business, so I expect they bumped a later arrival with a more expensive ticket instead...)
In the EU airlines have to compensate passengers who are denied boarding if the reason is that the flight is overbooked:
The same applies for flights cancelled for operational reasons, and the airlines may end up having to book tickets with one of their competitors if the competitor have seats available.
> In the EU
Ah. So presumably, as a Brit, I can look forward to a new influx of shitty business practices starting in six weeks' time. Yay.
It happened to me on flight to Krakow (polish LOT) for example. I had a boarding pass, and only at the gate I was told the plane is overbooked and I can't go (plus 2 other passengers). Plans well ruined.
It is a pathetic, deplorable strategy based on pure greed. I am saddened that in a place like EU this is still not tackled properly. The compensation for messed up plans is pathetic and clearly not punishing enough to airlines to abandon this practice. I am sympathetic for delays/cancellations for causes out of influence of an airline, but this is conscious risk taken by airline and big FU to travellers.
> It is a pathetic, deplorable strategy based on pure greed
No. The number of pax that show up is somewhat random, the number of seats on the plane is somewhat random (weight and balance, broken oxygen mask or seatbelt, higher priority pax such as crew that need to be ferried to a flight that could not otherwise go, etc.)
To always plan such that the highest possible number of pax is smaller or equal to the lowest possible number of seats available is wasteful.
Why don't people understand that an airline operates under different constraints than a bus company or a train operator? In a plane, you can't just have a few more people sit in the aisle.
Now, like any stochastic problem, you assign weights to both suboptimal outcomes (empty seats, bumped pax), and optimise, which leads to modest overbooking. Now, most of the time everyone gets along (and more people than without modest overbooking), and sometimes some people are denied boarding. Some people need to be at a certain place at a certain time, and some people don't care if they're a day or two late. So you ask for volunteers and compensate.
It's not only perfectly rational, but also perfectly moral.
Why don't you get upset that people ever have to wait for surgery? Why don't we double the number of doctors and hospitals, so that always anytime someone needs surgery they can immediately get it? Well, because it's prohibitively expensive, and it's much more efficient to keep the facilities utilised as fully as possible, and shift around the demand (patients) a bit. Is that a deplorable strategy based on pure greed? No, it's a sensible optimisation to utilise scarce resources as well as we can.
Talking of greed, do you know how to make a small fortune in aviation? Easy, start with a big fortune.
Of course, regulation could make bumping pax even more expensive and thus change the calculation. That would probably lead to higher ticket prices and more (but emptier) planes in the air. Is that preferable to the current "pathetic, deplorable strategy based on pure greed"?
EDIT to add: This is assuming decent communication, and decent compensation for bumped pax (as is the case in Europe). I'm not really familiar with the situation in Northern America, if they just bump pax without compensation and/or lie to them, that's clearly not good, either.
> So you ask for volunteers and compensate.
I've never experienced the process of asking passengers who wants to stay. Only finding out at the gate at the last moment. Also seen it happened to many other travelers while I passed through - finding out their ticket won't get you through the gate - shocked, frustrated, pissed off. You seem to be an airline apologist, maybe an insider? Or you just never faced the situation described?
Way too many wrong/incorrect statements in your post to cover all of those, and tons of whataboutism. But at least some:
> Why don't people understand that an airline operates under different constraints than a bus company or a train operator?
Why oh why... should I care? Its a public transport offering, nothing more or special. It certainly doesn't give them some extra credit so they can act amorally to maximize profits.
> To always plan such that the highest possible number of pax is smaller or equal to the lowest possible number of seats available is wasteful.
By your logic, we should all be transferred like a cattle, since it would be way more efficient, and who cares about treating customers with basic dignity when you can optimize, right?
Bottom line - my opinion is airlines should pay extra to people they on purpose deny boarding due to overbooking compared to other causes, only because their wonderful analytical methods and systems screwed up again. In all my overbooking experiences, the compensation was too small to even cover additional expenses I had to pay to cover for the mess created by airlines. And how do you compensate stress, frustration, missed opportunities, reduced time for vacation etc on top of that? Also the process of retrieval compensation is often as complicated as possible, ie that LOT took quite a few calls to their support to send me a 'secret' link you simply can't find on their website, and it took more than 2 months to get money after filling it. It was even an EU regulation breach, but do you think anybody at airline cared? At least some other airlines were more direct.
How do you apologize the fact they let you roll through check in, but send you home/to hotel only at the gate? It is really a wonderful experience, apparently you might benefit from that humiliation a bit and see things from customer's perspective.
I hit an overbooked flight in Europe last year (Air France, intercontinental flight out of Paris). I suspect it happens a lot less than in North America, because there is a mandatory payment of 600 Euro per passenger if you get to the departure gate but are denied boarding to the plane. There may be other mandatory requirements depending on how quickly they can get you to your destination. I got a few hours delay and an alternate, non-direct flight via a non-allied airline.
> I suspect it happens a lot less than in North America, because there is a mandatory payment of 600 Euro per passenger if you get to the departure gate but are denied boarding to the plane
Is there anything that keeps the fine increasing alongside inflation?
No, European Airlines do this as well. But if you check in online, you have your seat.
At least with European carriers (with flight to/from USA) each time I've been offered to take a later flight it has been at the check-in or bag drop, I've been informed that should I accept I'd get a boarding pass and should go to the gate where they would eventually tell me whether I'm flying or not. So, no surprises there, ever. They gather a group of passengers willing to trade their flights and pick flyers vs hotel goers among those.
Supposedly this is a company internal document, which states:
Air Canada Revenue Management’s team is tasked with ensuring that the maximum
revenue potential is made on each and every flight we operate.
As it is known that a certain percentage of confirmed customers do not show for their flights, it is sometimes necessary to sell more seats than aircraft capacity.
Revenue Management uses a sophisticated system that uses “day of” and historical
information to monitor all flights in Air Canada’s system, calculating the acceptable level of oversell risk.
All airlines do this... at least all USA airlines.
Hotels do it too -- in the 90's I worked for a hotel chain and helped integrate an airline vendor's revenue management system into the hotels central reservation system. Just like the airlines, hotels use past booking and seasonality/special event data to figure out how much to charge for rooms and how much to overbook to maximize revenue. Prior to the software, hotel managers did it manually.
Pretty much every industry that sells products subject to spoilage does it too -- a grocery store determines how much bread to order to avoid throwing away spoiled bread that didn't sell before it spoiled while avoiding running out (the equivalent of overbooking - the consumer wants it but can't have it). But grocery stores and airlines have the opposite problem - airlines can't control supply (in the short term), they have a fixed amount of product to sell so they primarily use pricing to control demand. Grocery stores control supply (within reason) so if demand changes, they can just order more or less product (but they can also alter pricing).
That's just a description of overselling. What's unique to Air Canada about this story? Do the other airlines do this too?
Service staff appear to not make it clear to customers that unless your boarding pass has a seat number on it that you don't have a seat.
No airline I have ever flown with has ever made this clear to me.
Maybe if you know what magic words to ask, and specifically ask them - but at that point, you should already know the answer.
For the record, I've got the dreaded GATE many times, and never been denied boarding.
Overselling wouldn't seem as egregious if they didn't then go ahead and do stuff like this:
Overselling is standard practice in the industry. It's also not a secret. Any passenger on any airline should be able to ask any member of staff of that airline and get the same answer: yes we sell more than 100% of the seats, and if we didn't you would have paid more for yours.
I don't mind this at all so long as my compensation for not being allowed to board is high enough. That is: who is allowed to board should not be decided by the airline. It should be decided by the airline asking passengers who can accept taking the next plane. "We have an overbooking of 3 passengers, passengers willing to take the next flight for €300 please contact gate 49.".
I have seen this work. I have seen people rush to get that compensation check (presumably because they had no time to keep, or even a long enough connection that it doesn't matter for their final arrival time).
If I'm going to a wedding and can't be late, I'm not going to volonteer to take the next plane.
Obviously: if the airline randomly selects passengers to not board, without flexibility or "auctioning", that is absolutely unacceptable. That will invariably lead to the passenger selected being the person that can't be late for that wedding being the one booted. Basically: if there is even a rumor of your airline doing that - find another airline and let them know.
Indeed. In the USA, especially after the United debacle, "voluntary denied-boardings" have become quite profitable for those that take them. When UA/etc say that they have increased their maximum compensation per person to $10,000, they aren't kidding, and this does get offered (though usually it's filled at lower amounts.)
I've taken 4-figure VDBs and been quite happy with the result.
Impressed it ever has gotten to that far. I've taken a $500 + hotel and thought that was a deal!
Passengers would stop complaining or even start volunteering if Air Canada was offering them a monetary compensation for postponing their trip to the next flight. This is what happens in Europe and getting 300€ to wait 4 hours in an airport is not too bad if you're not in a hurry.
Thanks for making this clear.
In the EU, I've been asked multiple times if I'm OK with flying on the next day. 300€ / 600€ (if +1500km) and a nice hotel are quite nice as a student.
Never understood why overbooking is considered annoying in the US.
Because Canadians don't get that. We get a $25 meal voucher and a ticket on the next flight.
On topic: Depends on where you are. I was on an overbooked flight with WOW in Iceland a few months back, they ultimately ended up getting me a seat, but there is sometime about compensation if they can't get you on a flight within X number of hours as a result of the fault of the airline. I'll try to dig it up again...
Somewhat unrelated but I had a terrible time with Air Canada a couple weeks ago for a YUL > EWR flight. Flight was canceled right before it took off. Gate agent was like "Sorry. Flight cancelled due to weather, here's a pamphlet with information and this is the exit door to lead you out of the departure area, we can't do anything for you."
That wasn't the issue. The issue was I had purchased liquor at duty free and needed to return it. I very clearly asked the gate agent if going out that door would still leave me the opportunity to return it. "Yes, no problem". Well the door dumps you into the connecting area of YUL, leaving you no way to re-enter the airport without passing through customs back into Canada and then security to go back to your flight again, where you now have to check the bag with liquor in it.
Gigantic pain in the ass. Wasted over two hours of my time from having to check and retrieve the bag. Fortunately, they were able to rebook me manually on the final flight out that day, automatically I would have been stuck 2 days.
> there is sometime about compensation if they can't get you on a flight within X number of hours as a result of the fault of the airline
EU air passenger rights https://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/passenger-right...
Do these apply? Iceland isn’t in EU.
The EU rules apply to Iceland.
The reason is that Iceland is in the EEA. Part of the rules for having free access to the market is that Iceland has to accept EU rules. Basically they get all of the regulations but have no seat at the table. Norway is in the same boat.
The site addresses this pretty well at almost the top of the page:
- If your flight is within the EU and is operated either by an EU or a non-EU airline
- If your flight arrives in the EU from outside the EU and is operated by an EU airline
- If your flight departs from the EU to a non-EU country operated by an EU or a non-EU airline
- If you have not already received benefits (compensation, re-routing, assistance from the airline) for flight related problems for this journey under the relevant law of a non-EU country.
So pretty much all flights departing from within the EU is covered.
Wow is an Icelanding airline, the flight was departing from Iceland, so none of the above are relevant.
> EU means the 28 EU countries [...] as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.
It's in the next paragraph.
Basically don’t buy liquids duty free these days. There’s too much that can happen to make you end up with a liter or so of booze and now you need to pass through security.
As for security, many checkpoints allow you to pass with liquor in surplus of the normal amounts if you're on an international journey and it's still in the tamper-evident bag.
Eg, from the TSA:
> You may carry duty free liquids in secure, tamper–evident bags, more than 3.4 oz or 100 ml in your carry-on bag if:
> * The duty free liquids were purchased internationally and you are traveling to the United States with a connecting flight.
> * The liquids are packed in a transparent, secure, tamper-evident bag by the retailer and do not show signs of tampering when presented to TSA for screening.
> * The original receipt for the liquids is present and the purchase was made within 48 hours.
And the EU[^2]:
> * EU duty free liquids which have been obtained at EU airports or on board of an aircraft of an EU carrier on condition that they are packed in packed in security tamper-evident bag (STEB), inside which proof of purchase at airside at that airport on that day is displayed, as recommended by International Civil Aviation Organization ;
> * duty-free liquids purchased at certain airports in Croatia, Malaysia, Singapore or at international airports in Canada or the U.S on condition that they are packed in a STEB inside which satisfactory proof of purchase at airside at that airport within the preceding 36 hours is displayed.
I don't believe the gate agent should have allowed the GP to keep the duty-free items (they should have been held until they were on their next flight). I would have found a member of the airline staff ASAP.
And obviously, these don't cover all scenarios. They're likely fine for the vast majority of the travelling public.
[^2]: With flights directly from Australia now feasible, the second part of this section should probably be updated.
This seems like standard practice for US airlines, including the part where checking in and going through seat assignment means you have a seat (because it indicates you're unlikely to be a no-show). What's different here? Are they communicating to passengers differently? Are they overselling much more aggressively than US carriers / worse at predicting? Do fewer Air Canada passengers accept offers to take a later flight, or do they fly routes where that doesn't work?
This practice is used in almost every industry with finite inventory by Revenue Management teams where there is opportunity to pre-empt a booking, slot, or (where I am most familiar) a tv spot.
I recall working for television systems management and having a revenue and yield optimization consultant from the airline industry present to our company with methods we could use to increased revenue by booking even more spots than we had and either pre-empting more low value TV spots with automatic optimization and moving of the spots, or simply taking more time away from marketing or promotional ads from the network.
Most of the practices recommended by this consultant we had already implemented, but there were some really neat recommendations specifically from the airline industry in order to maximize revenue, most of them revolved around overbooking. Eligible TV spots would be automatically moved forward (front-loaded) into weekly rotation selling options (groups of program sold under the same name and price).
I could go on forever, but I suppose as a general comment regarding revenue management and yield optimization there is nothing which surprises me about these practices.
I think the important thing here is just honesty in the business practice. Presumably you were upfront with your clients about what they were actually purchasing and what the risks were. The article here is not about overselling per se but about lying about it.
Overselling airline seats is pretty typical, but is there any reason for the check-in agent to give the ticketholder false hope? That just seems like passing the buck to the gate agent.
To sell the seat? If they tell the customer "Well, we're not sure if you have a seat, go ask the gate agent", then some customers will not want to bother and will cancel or change their flight -- so the airline goes from an overbooking situation to an underbooking situation, which costs the airline money.
Well I have checked in on oversold flights before but never has a check in agent ever told me "don't worry about it, you'll get a seat for sure" - they have always been honest about how the process will work at the gate and usually give me a decent guess at the likelihood that I'll get a seat, offer to rebook (usually you have to ask to have them look for flights on other carriers, but they are required to do that if possible), but they usually can't offer as many incentives (miles, vouchers) there like they can at the gate.
What this check in agent is claiming to do on Air Canadas behalf just sounds unnecessarily cruel.
I did get that assurance once, but I was flying to see a family member in the ICU at Christmas. Can’t recall now if they asked for volunteers but I do recall the complete lack of wiggle words calmed me down.
Air Canada is one of the worst airlines I have ever had the displeasure to fly.
I had this exact experience a few weeks ago with Air Canada out of Vancouver. I ended up with the dreaded GTE on my boarding pass, buy essentially refusing to be extorted ( paying for preferred seating)
You would think, buying the damn ticket entitles you to a seat, but not in Air Canada, unless you are willing to pay extra.
the most recent time I had this issue, The office travel coordinator booked my flight, I got an email asking me to go online and select a seat. except the system wanted to charge me $15 to select a preferred seat, and no option to select a seat without paying extra.
I actually called customer support and they told me, the only way you can be guaranteed a seat, without paying extra for it is to wait and login to their website exactly 24 hours before the flight and manually choose a seat.
otherwise you will not be guaranteed a seat and will be on standby and assigned a seat at the gate.
It felt like extortion, and is one of the sleaziest companies I have ever dealt with.
unfortunately, I cannot book my own business trips, and it takes a while for the new travel coordinators to believe me when I tell them "I would rather crawl across the country then fly on Air Canada"
There should be a law to disclose this sort of information when you purchase a ticket... as well as the probability that you will be denied passage on the flight you are booking... In fact you could even make it so that they tell you the alternative you will be offered if that event occurs. They could even offer a premium price to guarantee your flight.
The whole point is to make this process more predictable for travelers. The tech exists, only the political will to force its use is necessary.
They could even offer a premium price to guarantee your flight
They do -- they call it a "full fare ticket" -- airlines bend over backwards to accommodate these full fare fliers, even if it means bumping a paid economy passenger from the flight. Though it's a pretty steep fee -- usually several times more than the restricted fare.
The SkyTeam alliance guarantees its frequent fliers (people who hold SkyTeam Elite Plus status) that they can buy a full Y-class fare on a completely sold out flight and they'll kick someone else off to put them on.
BA do this, although only in economy I think. It’s a 24 hour minimum too. I’ve never needed it.
I’ve booked on fully sold flights in a full fare class a few days before and the wait list clears, often in a few hours.
I believe this is all in the contract of carriage, except for the probability (I'm not sure how you'd make a law mandating accurate estimates...). The problem is once you make laws to disclose all the things people need to know (and, to be clear, I think they genuinely do need to know a bunch of stuff) it turns into five pages of fine print.
The alternative that you're offered, 99% of the time, is a seat on the next flight.
Which is sort of workable if you are taking a direct flight to some location within the same continent and the next flight is in a couple of hours... If the next flight is the next day then that is pretty unacceptable.
Depends if they’re offering a hotel too. I’ve been voluntarily bumped more than once when I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be, and the compensation was definitely worth it
Overselling is very common, especially with certain airlines on certain routes.
For example, British Airways heavily oversells their LHR-USA flights in business, premium economy, and economy. This often means that business class passengers get upgrades to F, premium economy fills business and if necessary, they can bring economy passengers forward.
This strategy works for them because they have a ton of very large planes on some routes that can go through spurts of heavy loads.
I get how overbooking is a good thing (by increasing utilization and decreasing prices), but the way it's implemented at most places (buried in the fine print and/or legalized by legislation) leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I'd be much more okay with overbooking if it was opt-in (or for that matter, opt out), with a clear cost that's conveyed to the passenger.
I've had an extremely bad experience with Air Canada that's eerily consistent with this article. Upgrade to business at the ticket counter, assigned seats, and then a red light and a sad noise from the ticket machine when I tried to board. Then a torrent of excuses, blame shifting, and rude behavior. This really soured me on Air Canada.
As a Canadian who flies a lot, Air Canada has absolutely the worst customer service. They make the “crappy” American carriers (United, etc) seem luxurious by comparison.
I remember one time connecting in to Vancouver and asking if I could could jump on the earlier flight rather than waiting 3 hours. Done this multiple times with US carriers if there is room. What do they care if the seat would have been empty otherwise?
I was informed by the AC agent that there would be a $175 fee for the ticket change. Plenty of other examples of rigidly following the rules even though it cost them nothing.
Probably you made the mistake of saying the word "change". If you want to change your ticket, i.e. get a guaranteed seat on a different flight, that costs money.
If you had asked to standby for the earlier flight, you would almost certainly have been told "ok we've put you on the list; check at the gate" with no charge.
This used to work in the past in the US. But last 5 years or so, every single time I've asked this with major carriers in the US, I've been quoted similarly high change fees as well.
Did you use the word 'change' or 'standby'?
They have a point, I think a United now charges $75 just to go on standby for an earlier flight.
Good point. I'll keep that in mind the next time!
I think that's more of a US versus the rest of the world thing. You can't do that anywhere in Europe with any carrier either without incurring change fees. Standby and same day changes is not really a thing outside of the US.
That's not true. I've had KLM put me on an earlier flight due to issues at Heathrow before. It's all about your airline. (Hint: Lufthansa = everything is your fault.. even their screw ups)
Air Canada did that for me once for free.
It might depend on how (over)sold the flights are. If your original flight is oversold and the other one is not, it seems like a win-win situation.
I am not sure how much article is misrepresenting the seriousness.
I travel air Canada 30+ times a year. GTE strictly means what it says - you don't have seat assigned and you may get one at the gate. They cannot help you at the checkin until they know who all is boarding. So from that perspective strictly, I understand that sending them to gate to await their destiny,rather than try to resolve at the checkin counter. At the checkin,you are a Schroedinger passenger - just don't know if you'll make it or not. There's nothing they can do to you there.
I do not believe it is correct to imply that GTE absolutely means you WON'T be boarded and thus its a complete lie. I have had that on my pass and have boarded - granted I have a bit of priority (lowest status level). Colleagues without status have had same experience. You just don't know.
Article also doesn't advise strongly enough to do an online or early checkin.
"Article also doesn't advise strongly enough to do an online or early checkin."
What is not clear from your statement is that, if you try to check in online, you must pay for seat selection, unless
You check in to the website 'exactly' 24 hours before your flight, even a few minutes earlier you have to pay extra just to get a damn seat.
there is no option for "I dont care just give me any seat"
you do not have the option of checking in and choosing a seat at the time of purchasing your ticket. I dont know about you but that feels like they just want to charge me extra unless I jump through ridiculous hoops just to get a seat for a ticket that I have already paid for.
I have been put on GTE for exactly this reason at least 6 times in the last year, and have not eventually been given a seat only once and bumped to the next flight
> you may get one at the gate.
There’s a world of difference between “your seat will be assigned at the gate” and “your seat may be....” The former, which is what I think most airlines actually say, strongly implies that you do have a seat, though they are still determining which one it is. The latter is often what they really mean.
If you are reasonably savvy, the fact that this is unusual ought to clue you in. However, that signal now is a bit diluted with all of the games airlines play to get you to pay extra to choose a seat so....
If the plane was big enough and flights were booked more than a year in advance they would use actuary tables to be better at overselling flights.
I've worked for airlines so that they could do this, including Air Canada. Yield management is how airlines live and die.
I recall having a leg of my flight cancelled for mechanical issues. They sent the entire plane full of people to the ticket agent and somehow they miraculously found planes for everybody on the next two flights, same day, same airline.
A few of us commented on how convenient it was that the plane needed maintenance and three flights on the same route were only 2/3rds full. What are the odds, he asked sarcastically.
Airlines are built around operations and scheduling. Some disruption/reaccommodation software is quite advanced and even takes load factor, cost, status, and customer LTV into account. Being able to reorganize entire schedules onto other planes and other airlines in minutes while still maintaining a 1-3% profit margin is non-trivial.
Doesn't every airline do this?
I have never seen this happen in Sweden.
Wow what a complete irresponsible way of dealing with the issue. It doesn't beat United pulling a passenger out of the plane, but it's very bad.
The correct way is of course to deal with this before the gate and arrange it then. "Sorry, our flight is overbooked, would you volunteer to take the next one with a compensation of $100?"
I was on an Air Canada flight recently, and I swore it would be my last. Every step of the experience of buying a seat and checking in was tainted with growth hacking BS, and I felt nickel & dimed in ways other airlines are probably rushing to catch up to.
- Choosing ANY seat in economy or getting any transparency into where they are putting you comes at an additional charge. I haven't seen this before, not sure how common it's become.
- While at the gate, I received a push asking if I wanted to BID on an upgrade to first class. I could "offer" anywhere between $450 and $900 and see whether or not I'd snag a better seat.
Air travel has long since become an anti-consumer race to the bottom. Capitalism has failed here.
In other news, capitalism is a thing. This is the system the world has come to accept. This kind of behavior is just a symptom of a larger problem with how corporations strive for profit over people.
Wait, there are people who don't realize that when they can't get an assigned seat when they book the ticket (and it's not because they bought a special fare that doesn't allow a reserved seats), it's because the flight is oversold and they will be waitlisted for a seat? Every airline does this.
That's not always what it means when you have no seat assignment, especially with codeshares. I've bought tickets that had no assigned seat until checkin even though the flight was undersold.
This is that whole feigned surprise thing that Recurse Center bans, isn’t it?