There’s been a recent fuss in the news about an airline who had overbooked and wanted someone – someone who had paid for a seat and was already sitting on the plane – to leave to make room for one of their staff who needed to travel to wherever the plane was going. OK, but after asking people politely to go on another flight they them dragged a customer out of his seat and forced him off the aircraft.
Of course this made the headlines. If the travelling public had any sense of fair play the airline concerned would shortly be filing for bankruptcy. Who in the right mind would want to travel with a company who treated their fare-paying customers in this way?
Alas, people are so used to the idea that the airline – the big wealthy powerful organisation – is always right, I doubt if their turnover will even decrease by a small amount. In fact it might well increase as newspapers in search of a good story will send their reporters to see if they can get “bounced” and if they are treated well or badly.
Of course it is ridiculous that airlines can overbook in this way. Remember they’ve already been paid for the seats and stand to lose nothing by reneging on their contract to transport the passenger to the agreed destination.
The remedy I suggest is this:
All long-haul airlines to be required to have at least 5% spare capacity – ie seats that are not booked and are kept available for airline employees and emergencies that do not require to plane to deviate from its planned route or make an emergency landing. I’m thinking of scenarios where a passenger is taken ill with something unpleasant rather than life-threatening. Who wants to sit for several hours next to someone who is vomiting copiously every ten minutes? There should be somewhere segregated to take such a passenger. The same should apply to a very noisy and disruptive child whose parents cannot control his behaviour. The cabin staff can hardly knock the brat out with a strong sedative however much they might like to do so, but they can and should be able to minimise the discomfort to fellow-travellers. This could be done by taking the child and parents to the “spare” seating area where they can at least be separated from the rest of the passengers.
Air liners are notoriously cramped and uncomfortable and I feel an airline who offered more space, not just slightly wider seats but room to move around, even a lounge where passengers could chat and play games and lie down if they wished should attract passengers looking to get there not in the shortest possible time but with the least degree of discomfort. An airline that advertised as “Never overbooked” or “If you’ve paid for a seat, we guarantee you get a seat” should be first choice for any sensible customer.
Alas I don’t think this will happen. Airline passengers are so used to being treated badly and herded around and made to stand in queues that they expect it. Any airline that offered space and comfort to its customers would immediately be suspect.
I can imagine a cartoon – unfortunately I can’t draw so have to describe it – where a man is arguing with an airport official “What do you mean I’ve been bumped off the plane? I’m the pilot!”
(this is the best way to fly!)