Overbooked?

Businesses exist to make money. Yes, they may also strive to positively impact their communities, or produce the next big tech device or improve a supply chain, yet at the very top levels increasing profit is the motivating factor. This drive to earn as much money as possible is the sole reason that airlines overbook their flights.

It’s not their fault, though. I mean, that’s what they’re in business to do, right? Make. More.  Money. Why else do they charge between $95-$175 each way for a carrier that sits underneath the seat in front of you, counts as a carry-on bag and happens to have a cat or small dog inside? Some contributing factors to the need to sell more seats than each plane can hold is due to those people who book a flight and then they don’t show up. This is a fact and it happens all the time. Business meetings change, traffic accidents delay arrivals, and people get drunk at airport bars and lose track of time. All of these situations lead airlines to sell more seats than they can fill. Airlines also overbook by accident when a last minute aircraft change results in a smaller aircraft than originally planned. Here’s the kicker…, airlines are not the only sector of the travel and tourism industry that practices this revenue management strategy!

Hotels do the exact same thing. Guests are frequently accommodated at a competing hotel due to overbooking. The strategy is based on the fact that people do not always show up, and the most profitable hotels know which week nights are most prone to no shows. The reason for the overbooking can be far- fetched and creative, but at the end of the day the hotel overbooked because the Sales and Revenue Management teams want to make the most money out of their static room count as possible. And, to be completely fair, they can overbook on the rare occasion that a room or two cannot be resold due to maintenance or damage from a previous guest…. Though, that is rare.

If a hotel room and an airline ticket are refunded due to overbooking, then money seemingly is lost. However, overbooking does something else to the profit of a hotel/airline. Overbooking nearly guarantees that the occupancy of the plane or the hotel is as high as possible and this in turn increased the revenue per available room/seat. Higher RevPAR is a key financial metric for management companies and investors, and a key indicator of market strength. Again, it’s all about the money.

As we all know, this week United Airlines got caught in an overbooking situation. What no one else is saying, however, is that the overbooking itself is not what caused the uproar and resulted in the physical assault of an individual. Regardless, United Airlines lost hundreds of millions of dollars and the downfall has just begun.

Did anyone else notice, though, that it was NOT a United Airlines Employee that assaulted and then physically removed the passenger??! That’s right! It was NOT a United Airlines employee. Therefore, I challenge that United Airlines not be held solely responsible for the horrific situation that occurred.. United oversold the flight, and for whatever reason no one on that plane thought that $800.00 plus a reimbursement for their ticket (so, easily upwards of $1,000.00) was worth sticking around Chicago for an extra day or so.  The passenger refused to give up his paid for seat, and so far, we don’t know why. But, who cares why.

Let’s all remember that Airlines are sensitive these days, and anyone that flies knows that as a passenger obeying the commands of the flight crew is required. Not optional. Not maybe. Not, “we’d appreciate it if you might listen to us and consider what we think is best for you.” Passengers are required by law to obey the instructions of the flight crew. This passenger did not, apparently, do that. But, again, the passenger was not assaulted by a flight crew member.

The United flight crew called security. The Chicago Security Authority boarded the plane, at the request of the United Crew, and what happened next was nothing short of awful. The security officer made a decision to forget about humanity. He looked at the living, breathing human in that airplane seat and chose to physically assault, harass, injure and humiliate that human. That is what the uproar should be about on social media and in the news and in the gossip at the hair salon.

In the moment, when it mattered most, an individual’s humanity was entirely forgotten. This is the real, heartbreaking, and infuriating truth behind these events. United and the Chicago Security Authority made huge mistakes and they will pay dearly, though likely not enough, for their choices.

Money started the process and created the situation. Ironically, had 1 of those passengers cared about money more than the plans they had for the following 24-36 hours, the situation wouldn’t have happened at all. Money makes people do crazy things. That is never an excuse for humanity to be forgotten.

At the end of the day, airlines will continue to overbook flights, and so will hotels. Guests and passengers will continue to be compensated for the inconvenience. The only way to ensure this type of incident never occurs again is for each human on this planet to remember that we are all only human. And, as Ellen DeGeneres says at the end of nearly each show, “Be kind to one another.” Wouldn’t it be a whole new world if we were all kind to one another…

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One thought on “Overbooked?

  1. HI Florie, Thanks for looking at this from an insider-industry perspective.

    I don’t see a serious distinction between “assaulted by a United employee” and “assaulted by a security service hired by United on behalf of their own employees.” Questions have also been raised as to whether even those security thugs would have dragged, say, a 69-year-old blonde white woman out on her ass kicking and screaming, but felt free to do it to an Asian (imagine what they might have done to a brown person). Questions have also been raised about the knee-jerk reaction of Americans to solve frustrations with violence rather than with patience. Rather than forcing four passengers at random to be ‘re-accommodated’, couldn’t United have ‘re-accommodated’ the four crew members that it was trying to fly somewhere?

    Also, given that overbooking in the name of maximizing profit routinely leads to situations like this, isn’t it time to reconsider how maximizing profit sometimes almost guarantees human degradation (another example: inevitable weather delays; a grad student of Keith’s had her flight from Boston cancelled last week due to weather and then for *three straight days* the the ticket counter told her they had no seats. She finally gave up and took the train back, a 14-hour ride—all because every single flight is by design booked to the max—gotta get that extra penny!—and so when weather hits (weather? In Boston? Imagine!) the cascade of stranded passengers quickly overwhelms the system). I find it very instructive that in the course of insisting on bouncing one $500 passenger in its singleminded determination to favor its crew over its passengers, United’s stock lost a billion dollars the next day, and as you say, the fallout isn’t over yet.

    Also instructive is that if it hadn’t been for ubiquitous cellphones, United would surely have denied that that incident ever took place. As it is, the CEO made it incomparably worse by starting out by blaming the passenger instead of admitting that his company’s own protocols made this incident almost inevitable the first time a passenger quite rightly said, “No. I’ve paid for this seat.” It’s a further nasty twist that United admits that the four weren’t in fact chosen at random, but by customer class and ticket price. The obedience you mention is meant for air safety, not for making us all into absolute sheep obeying whatever cruel whims the airline devises. When not a single passenger went for the $800 + bribe, maybe United should have put the crew it was trying to move on to another plane. Or maybe raised the bribe….But in any case, even if you exonerate United because they were secondary employers of the security forces, they still deserve to be pilloried for the inflexibility of their bump-the-passenger thinking, and maybe even more, for not realizing that the blame-the-passenger strategy was not going to work until well after an international cascade of wrath hosed them right out of their out-of-touch boardrooms. ~Aunt Ruth

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