It’s not easy to insulate yourself from being booted to another flight.
A man was dragged off a flight on Sunday night because United needed to free up a seat. A video of the incident went viral the next day, and shows that airlines don’t really have to give you the service that you paid for.
Technically, United’s fiasco wasn’t even an issue of overbooking ― flight staff members needed to be able to sit. Still, thousands of customers lose their seats to overbooking every year, according to consumer reports.
Some, known as “voluntary” customers, take a deal with an airline and give up their seat in return for flight vouchers or cash. But others, known as “involuntary” customers, are simply kicked off the plane.
“But hey,” you might ask yourself, “why not just pick an airline that has a policy against overbooking in the first place?”
You’re clever to ask that, reader ― just not clever enough. There are numerous ways to lower your chances of being bumped to another flight, but even airlines with policies against overselling end up rescheduling a few customers.
JetBlue, for example, doesn’t overbook flights.
“JetBlue has a longstanding customer-friendly policy to not oversell flights and we remain committed to that policy,” spokeswoman Danielle Sanders told The Huffington Post on Tuesday.
You’d think such a policy would translate to fewer customers being asked to change their travel plans.
But according to the most recent Air Travel Consumer Report ― a monthly quality-control document released by the Department of Transportation ― JetBlue denies boarding to involuntary customers more than most other airlines. It denied boarding to 1,036 involuntary customers, out of a total 8.7 million customers, between October and December of 2016. That’s more than one customer for every 10,000.
That may not sound like a lot, but that number puts JetBlue near the bottom of the pack. Ten other airlines had better numbers in denying involuntary passengers, and the only airline with worse numbers was ExpressJet.
To be fair, that number fluctuated wildly for JetBlue year-over-year. From October to December in 2015, it booted only 21 involuntary passengers of 8.1 million total customers.
JetBlue attributes the change to its growing fleet of A321 planes, which have dozens more seats than its typical A320 aircraft. Passengers were rebooked to the next available flight “to accommodate needs like unplanned maintenance” on the larger aircraft, Sanders said.
So what does that mean for you?
Basically, there’s no real way to guarantee you won’t be forced to take a later flight. If you are, however, make sure you ask for a lot of cash.