Flight 'ran out of seats', couldn't check in, is that a 'bump'?
May 18, 2014 1:06 PM   Subscribe

Flying back from a small regional airport, I had the pleasure of discovering there were no more seats available on my return flight. I had booked the round trip on American Airlines through Expedia several weeks earlier. The airlines wouldn't let me check in online due to the lack of seats, and when I got to the airport they basically set me up on a much later flight the next day. Am I entitled to compensation for an overbooked flight?

I've gone through this DOT guide, but I'm not sure exactly if what happened constitutes a bump. I keep reading the word "confirmed", but since I wasn't allowed to check-in, I don't know if that still applies.

I want to press the issue with them, but I need to know if I'm standing on solid ground here.
posted by NBJack to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I might start with talking to Expedia, and see what they have to say on the matter, since you booked through them.
posted by brainmouse at 1:24 PM on May 18, 2014

Best answer: Don't bother with Expedia. Your beef is with American Airlines, and governed by its Contract of Carriage. Check out the section on Oversold flights.

It's entirely possible that a change of equipment led to your not having a seat, or that your flight was weight-limited due to operational issues. Based on the CoC, it looks like you are entitled to some sort of compensation, since it does not sound like the airline did not solicit volunteers nor did they get you to your destination within one hour of the original schedule. But if the issue was weight, they will probably claim Force Majeur due to weather.

Regardless, give them a call. Any phone agent will have access to the entire record of your travel.
posted by scolbath at 1:51 PM on May 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ask the flight attendant this question at the gate, when they don't look super busy and with a big smile on your face and a good attitude about the delay. I've had much better results getting good treatment and compensations this way than actually trying to fight to get something through customer service desk or forcing them to do my will.
posted by Roger Dodger at 1:51 PM on May 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice. I'll give the carrier a call after I've survived the return trip.
posted by NBJack at 3:16 PM on May 18, 2014

I've had this happen to me. They weren't willing to do anything except offer me an "upgrade to first class" on a flight that was 1 hour long. Airlines suck. In the future, always make sure you are assigned a seat when you buy the tickets. If your ticket says "seat assigned upon check in", call the airline and make them give you seats, flights when your seats are not assigned is when they are going to do this crap.
posted by katers890 at 5:49 PM on May 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is why I try not to use Expedia or Orbitz anymore. The tickets are funky and customer service isn't as willing to work with you.
posted by k8t at 6:00 PM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

> If your ticket says "seat assigned upon check in"

... you are basically flying on standby.

I've noticed a few times when booking through discounters / aggregators that I've been unable to check in and gotten that message. I think they are effectively selling what used to be called "standby tickets", without representing them that way.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:30 PM on May 18, 2014

Airlines hold out specific sets of seats to be assigned once the flight goes under 'airport control' - typically the last few hours before takeoff. These seats are to accommodate wheelchair passengers, last minute special needs passengers (unaccompanied minors?) and shuffling for families, and are usually the bulkhead or exit row seats.

If you don't get a seat assignment before these are the last seats remaining, you will get the 'seat assigned upon checkin' message. All that means is that the gate agent will give you one of these seats once he/she has determined they're not needed. But you will get a seat. It in no way means you are 'flying on standby'.
posted by scolbath at 6:41 AM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had the "no assigned seat" annoyance on my last two AA flights. I think a big part of it has to do with their monetization of the seats up front. Each time that I bought my tickets, the ONLY seats I could choose at the time of ticketing were for an extra charge in the window or aisle seats up front (in the "premium economy" or whatever they call it now). I didn't choose to pay so I got the 'seat assigned upon check in' note.

Basically, the airlines want to wring out some extra cash from people who are willing to pay for the certainty of riding toward the front and in a window seat. So they leave a big pool of unassigned seats even as they sell enough tickets to fill the plane. The idea is that they will just assign you one of those seats at check in after the window to sell the assignment has closed. All that it takes are a few hiccups - a super-premium flyer needing a last-minute seat, a missed connection that must be accommodated, etc. - and suddenly the number of seats don't match the number of tickets.

All of that is a long way of saying that the airline's desperation for cash caused you - a confirmed, ticketed passenger - to not have a seat.

Assuming you tried to check in at least an hour before your flight, and assuming it was the same equipment, I think AA owes you money. Just because you didn't have a seat assignment doesn't mean you didn't have a confirmed reservation for that flight.
posted by AgentRocket at 10:56 AM on May 19, 2014

Response by poster: Just to provide more information, I attempted to check-in the night before online. Every seat was 'taken'. When I called, AA's agent basically told me the seats were already under the airport's control. It was a small regional airport in Louisiana, but I've relied on small regional airports before and this is a first for me. When I went to the airport later the day of the flight in person to resolve another issue, nobody was at the counter (they only show up when a flight arrives or departs, a common practice for smaller airports).

In the future, I suppose my only protection from this is to try and get checked-in at the 24 hour mark.

The AA ticketing agent I contacted couldn't help and advised me to e-mail customer service. FWIW, I'll post the results of my inquiry when they get back to me for the sake of future question-seekers.
posted by NBJack at 5:27 PM on May 19, 2014

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