Flight overbooking and international events: what you need to know

Posted May 12, 2017 Capture

Flight overbooking has been dominating the headlines in the last few weeks following on from the unceremonious removal of Dr David Dao from a United flight early last month. Travellers are learning, to their horror, that this common practice for the majority of carriers; that it is completely legal; and, that there isn't a lot they can do if their name is pulled from the hat. But what about when you're travelling to an event or competition and it’s paramount that you get your flight and arrive on time. How do you ensure that all of your team make it to the start line?

The answer is simple, be as prepared as you can be. Writing in The Independent last month, Simon Calder, recommends not to book a ticket on a popular flight, but then more helpfully suggests checking in as early as possible or joining loyalty schemes. Ultimately, when arranging travel for a team or group you want to be working with an operator who can manage this for you and guarantee those seats. This comes down to relationships with the airlines, pre-allocation of seats so that you are checked in well in advance, and of course, ensuring you are at the airport with plenty of time on the day you’re travelling – definitely something to consider with connecting flights, especially across the US.

The Guardian reported last month that 475,000 passengers were bumped off of US domestic flights in the last year alone. That’s 7.7 out of every 10,000 passengers booked on US domestic flights either volunteered to give up their seats, or were removed from the plane (Guardian, 2017). UK airlines are much more concealed around their overbooking data with BA calling it ‘commercially sensitive information’.

Overbooking is nothing new. Financially it makes sense for airlines - they get additional revenue from the extra tickets sold and for most routes there will be the standard drop outs - a passenger missing their flight, connecting flights being delayed or simply a change in travel plans. For us as passengers, it means lower ticket prices – so there are some benefits. EU documentation states that the statistical chance of all passengers with a valid ticket checking in on time is less than 1 in 10,000 at best. However, when there is a large scale event or sporting occasion these numbers are going to dramatically reduce as people ensure that they are there.

The good news is that such events should be taken into consider when calculating seat availability. Each day airline revenue management teams run carefully calculated data analysis to predict how many passengers can be booked onto each route and what the predicted drop out rate could be. They will take into account historic data alongside, heavy traffic dates – i.e. public holidays, school term time etc., and, where relevant events of note that might impact demand. The larger airlines will often have dedicated revenue management teams in place whereas smaller, budget airlines will often opt for ‘off the shelf’ solutions which may not be so agile, or informed.

So, what can you do to minimise your chances;

  • Be prepared. If you know you are going to need to get a group to an event, even if it’s in a year or so, start talking to your travel operator now, they can request and book your seats on the flights well in advance of the public, ensuring you travel.
  • Experience counts. Choose a travel operator who is experienced with travel to large scale, global events and the logistics required to get you, your team and their equipment over there. Be sure to ask them about their relationship and partnerships with the airlines
  • If in doubt, charter. For large scale, global event i.e. the Olympics, The FIFA World Cup etc. a charter might be the way forwards. For the recent Russian GP, Travel Places charter a total of six flights between London and Sochi to ensure that the teams made it to the track. Talk to your travel operator about this as an option.

There are definitely pros and cons of overbooking, but by making sure that you partner with the right travel operator, and plan your group travel needs in advance, you shouldn’t be negatively impacted – ensuring that you and your team are at the starting line.

First posted: LinkedIn (May 5, 2017)

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