Ticket to Fly
January 16, 2006 9:27 AM   Subscribe

What is the airline's obligation to me when they ask me to change to a different flight because of over-booking?

I was booked on a flight from Dulles (DC) to Sacramento with a 1.5 hour layover in Denver this past weekend. They called me up to the ticket counter and asked if I wouldn't mind changing to a later non-stop flight that would essentially get in at about the same time, and they would give me a free ticket for my trouble. Ok. Sure. No problem.
I was told to go sit down and they'd talk to me in a bit. Just before they were ready to close the doors the ticket agent waves me over and says I can get on this flight. I told him I'd rather wait and go on the non-stop flight he'd offered me. So he printed out my new boarding pass. I asked him about the free ticket he'd mentioned earlier and he said that I was no longer qualified for that because *I* made the choice to change flights. No, actually I hadn't. He offered me another flight and I accepted due to over-booking. I still feel I'm owed the ticket for a free flight w/in the next year. I don't know why there was a seat - in first class even - available at the last minute, but I agreed to change my flight and had already made arrangements to be picked up at the later time. Should I fight this? Do they, in fact, owe me the ticket?
posted by SoftSummerBreeze to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total)
I don't know, since they were able to fit you in on your original flight, it does seem that they no longer had a reason to bribe you with the free ticket, since they were able to give you what you originally paid for. It is really stupid that they asked people to volunteer to get bumped when the flight wasn't really overbooked though. It can't hurt to write a letter to the airline and explain the situation - they might give you the free ticket anyway.

What airline was this anyway?
posted by catfood at 9:35 AM on January 16, 2006

i don't know if they have an obligation or not, but you might have some luck petitioning them to fix this. what airline was it?
posted by BigBrownBear at 9:35 AM on January 16, 2006

When you say your "new boarding pass" was printed out, which are you talking about? The original flight or the nonstop flight they bumped you to?
posted by elisabeth r at 9:42 AM on January 16, 2006

They were able to get you on the flight you were booked on, but they were also willing to let you take a flight that was better for you (non-stop), even though it meant flying an empty seat on the current plane. You expect them to give you a free flight because you made a phone call in the interim?
posted by jacquilynne at 9:44 AM on January 16, 2006

you won't get anything, and in fact, they did you a favor by switching your flight for free to a better one - that can cost $25-100 these days. good luck, but a letter will probably net you 5k FF miles at best.
posted by kcm at 9:46 AM on January 16, 2006

fyi - im sure the 1st class seat was being held for someone who didnt show up so they released it to you. i used to work for a company that paid fullfare economy and if people didnt show up (which happened often) they would bump us to first.
posted by BigBrownBear at 9:46 AM on January 16, 2006

If you are involuntarily bumped you'll have a good shot at getting a free ticket. But once you choose to bump yourself or take yourself out of the queue it's up to their discretion. I don't think they're under any legal obligation to give a free ticket since the fine print usually states that your seat is not guaranteed. But if you're polite but firm in your displeasure it's amazing the lengths they'll go to to make you happy. If you don't have luck at thegate, try their 800 number and speak with somebody there.

My boss and I just got bumped from a flight that had to bum twenty plus people (the most I've ever seen bumped for overbooking) and we both got round trip tickets. It took a while to get them to refund our tickets and give us comp tickets becasue they first tried to book us on another flight. But the next available flight would have had us arrive AFTER the meeting we were flying in for, which made the trip worthless.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:46 AM on January 16, 2006

Actually, in this scenerio I think kcm is right. Bonus miles is the best offer I think you're gonna get.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:49 AM on January 16, 2006

Yeah... it sounds like you want your cake and to eat it, too.
posted by silusGROK at 9:58 AM on January 16, 2006

To the airline, you haven't accepted their deal until the over-booked plane takes off full and they hand you a new boarding pass, whatever you feel was agreed upon. If you don't have a new boarding pass, you're still on the first flight. It does suck to feel like you're getting jerked around.

I agree with the above posters that if you write a polite letter/email explaining what happened, making sure to include that a) you were told that you'd already been booked on the later flight, b) you changed your plans according to what the gate agent said, and c) you've been a loyal customer and here's the frequent flier information, they'll almost certainly give you some free miles. In similar situations where I've been inconvenienced, I've received up to 15,000 miles.
posted by MarkAnd at 10:26 AM on January 16, 2006

Response by poster: The airline is United.

I was booked in First Class on the first flight (there was no upgrade involved here) which they told me had been over-booked. There aren't *that many seats in First Class, so shouldn't/wouldn't they have known if they were actually over-booked in that class or not? Did someone from First Class agree to move to Coach? Doubtful. How the seat in First Class became available (again) at the last minute is beyond me.

I do feel they owe me what they offered me. I agreed to change flights at their request due to their supposed need of space on the first flight. And then I'm supposed to change back at the last minute? Doesn't sound right to me.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 10:30 AM on January 16, 2006

Ugh, sometimes I really hate our entitlement society. My advice is to take your business to another airline, where you'll find that it, too, expects a small amount of reason from its customers.

Air travel is no longer only for the overprivileged and thus there is neither time nor money enough to coddle everyone to their satisfaction. If you find this unacceptable, then there is an ever-shrinking oasis you should know about: First Class.
posted by deadfather at 10:31 AM on January 16, 2006

Completely ignore my comment. First Class fares deserve First Class treatment. I recommend you petition United, and you will likely get your free ticket.
posted by deadfather at 10:32 AM on January 16, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you for your retraction, deadfather, and I agree with your sentiment... 1st Class fares do deserve better that what I've received to date.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 10:37 AM on January 16, 2006

They have no obligation to you at all. Read the fine print on your ticket - you'll find that your purchase of the ticket obliges them to make a good faith attempt to get you to your destination. It doesn't oblige them to actually fly you there, or get you there on any kind of schedule, or get you there at all, or even recompense you in any way if they don't get you there at all.

On the other hand, they probably don't want to lose a first class customer, so if you call them up and complain, you'll probably eventually get something out of it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:08 PM on January 16, 2006

The most I'd do in this scenario is to write a letter to the head of customer service, expressing disappointment with the confusing policy implementation and requesting that they clarify potential reward status in the future so others don't face a similar complaint.

I wouldn't expect much in return, but somebody might be kind and give you a bit of something, particularly if they notice how many miles you've flown.
posted by I Love Tacos at 1:57 PM on January 16, 2006

Oh, and first class treatment is one thing, but if you haven't actually incurred any harm (hopes and dreams of free airfare don't count, IMO), then I don't think they have any real responsibility to you.

It's a bigger seat and a power outlet, not a license to piss all over the airline.
posted by I Love Tacos at 1:59 PM on January 16, 2006

AFAIK, they don't ever owe you anything for bumping you. They offer passengers perks for volunteering to be bumped but if they get no volunteers then people get bumped involuntarily with no perks. Plus they can say that you didn't get bumped -- you chose the other flight while room was available on the original flight. So I wouldn't take the approach that they owe you something for that reason.

However, you do have a valid complaint about miscommunication (or unclear communication, at least). You made a decision between two options, not understanding that one of the options was no longer available and so you got something different than you thought you were choosing. The problem isn't that the perk was no longer available -- the problem is that nobody told you that it was no longer available until after you had chosen (and you wouldn't have made the choice you did if you had the correct information). I think that framing it that way will get you the free ticket.
posted by winston at 5:50 PM on January 16, 2006

It's a bigger seat and a power outlet, not a license to piss all over the airline.

You obviously do not understand first class. It's not about a bigger seat and a power outlet. If it was, first class tickets would be about, say, $75 extra. No, it's about all those things you wish money didn't buy. Sorry. It's their business model. I don't fly first class, but I'm glad that's the way it is.

The OP is not being unreasonable; having paid a premium for the promise of a high level of service, there is a question as to whether the airline will stand behind what it did as in line with that promise. Hopefully, a conversation with United will answer that question.
posted by deadfather at 8:04 PM on January 16, 2006

I understand first class perfectly well. I've booked a depressingly large amount of time in business and first.

He didn't experience bad service, he tried to game the system and he fucked up. The perks are there as compensation for the inconvenience; once that inconvenience is optional, all bets are off.
posted by I Love Tacos at 9:39 PM on January 16, 2006

oh, and deadfather, if you think $75 would cover the extra, clearly you haven't noticed how much nicer the seats are. Hell, I've had seats that reclined into a full-length bed.
posted by I Love Tacos at 9:45 PM on January 16, 2006

Best answer: United First Class. Once, this meant the Most. I really hate to see such a giant drop so low. Please offer my condolences to the company when you call them up to rip someone a new bodily orifice.

Taco, you are so wet, your shell is floppy. The system gamed him, not he the system. They made an arrangement, he rearranged his plans accordingly, then they tried to go back on the new deal. I'd side with the original poster even if it was coach (what I call "flying with the chickens"). But since he paid that insane premium, the airline should bend over backwards and kiss his anus. He did, indeed, pay to 'piss all over the airline'.
posted by Goofyy at 4:56 AM on January 17, 2006

That is the funniest best answer in history.

You still aren't going to get anything from the airline, but now you'll get to be pissed off about it. Not really much of an improvement, in my book.

With a polite letter (as I first suggested), there was a chance you'd get something. If you "tear them an asshole", you'll get absolutely nothing of value. Your only accomplishment will be the great big feeling you get from yelling at a low-wage employee who has absolutely nothing to do with your problem.

If that employee had the ability to do something for you, tearing them a new asshole would guarantee that they will not do so.

Good luck with your plan, and with your life. You need it.
posted by I Love Tacos at 11:02 AM on January 17, 2006

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