Fri, Apr 14, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Airlines push back on talk of overbooking ban

AP, DALLAS

With the US federal government and a Senate committee looking into the dragging of a man off of a United Express flight, airlines are beginning to speak up against any effort to bar them from overselling flights.

Delta Air Lines chief executive officer Ed Bastian on Wednesday called overbooking “a valid business process.”

“I don’t think we need to have additional legislation to try to control how the airlines run their businesses,” Bastian said. “The key is managing it before you get to the boarding process.”

Federal rules allow airlines to sell more tickets than they have seats, and airlines do it routinely because they assume some passengers will not show up.

The practice lets airlines keep fares low while managing the rate of no-shows, said Vaughn Jennings, spokesman for Airlines for America, which represents most of the big US carriers.

He said that plane seats are perishable commodities — once the door has closed, seats on a flight cannot be sold and lose all value.

Bumping is rare — only about one in 16,000 passengers got bumped last year, the lowest rate since at least the mid-1990s, but it angers customers who see their travel plans wrecked in an instant.

Bumping is not limited to flights that are oversold. It can happen if the plane is overweight or air marshals need a seat. Sometimes it happens because the airline needs room for employees who are commuting to work on another flight, which is what happened on Sunday.

Flight 3411 was sold out, passengers had boarded and every seat was filled when the airline discovered that it needed to find room for four crew members.

That eventually led to the video of a 69-year-old man being dragged off the plane by security officers after refusing to give up his seat.

United Airlines chief executive officer Oscar Munoz on Wednesday told ABC-TV that he would fix United’s policies and that it would no longer call on police to remove passengers from full flights.

Politicians have jumped on the public outrage.

Twenty-one Senate Democrats on Wednesday demanded a more detailed account of the incident from Munoz.

A day earlier, the top four members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation asked Munoz and Chicago O’Hare International Airport officials for an explanation.

“The last thing a paying airline passenger should expect is a physical altercation with law enforcement personnel after boarding,” the committee members said.

They asked Munoz about United’s policy for bumping passengers, and whether it makes a difference that passengers have already boarded the plane.

Senator Richard Blumenthal asked the US Department of Transportation to analyze “the problem of overbooking passengers throughout the industry.”

The department said it is investigating the incident to determine if United violated consumer protection or civil rights laws.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Tuesday said that he asked US President Donald Trump’s administration to suspend airlines’ ability to overbook flights, saying that bumping passengers off flights is “unconscionable.”

United is the dominant carrier at Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey’s largest airport.

Federal rules require that before airlines can bump passengers from a flight, they must seek volunteers, who are generally offered travel vouchers.

That usually works — of the 475,000 people who lost a seat last year, more than 90 percent did so voluntarily, according to government figures.

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