An unidentified passenger on a United Airlines aircraft was caught on camera being dragged off the plane by plain-clothed police officers. The passenger had reportedly refused to be bumped off from the overbooked flight. While the airline apologised for overbooking, they said that officials were following standard procedure and refused to apologise for the kind of treatment meted out to the passenger.
So what are overbooked flights? What is bumping? And what can an airline or a passenger do to resolve a similar situation in an Indian airline in India?
Firstly, overbooking a flight simply means the situation when an airline accepts reservations for a flight more than its seating capacity. The practice is usually followed to fill up the seats left vacant by late or last minute cancellations or people who don’t show up for their flight. It also gives a chance to people to book seats on a flight that shows as fully booked but may take off with some empty seats after all. In an oversale scenario, if confirmed-ticket customers check-in well in time for the flight to take off, some of them may even lose their seat. In industry parlance, the airline just “bumped” you.
What can Indian airlines and passengers do in such a situation of overbooking?
Airlines in India can deny boarding to confirmed passengers in case of an oversale.
According to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, in case of overbooking when more number of confirmed passengers check-in for a flight, the “airline may deny boarding to you while you may be holding confirmed bookings for travel on the flight and reported for the flight well within the specified time ahead of the departure of the flight.”
In this case, passengers are left with two options: voluntarily vacating seats, which gives you some relief like booking on a later flight, or vacating against your wish in which case airline is liable to pay the passenger compensation.
The ticket booking executives/customer service agents ask some passengers whether they would like to volunteer to drop their booking and take a flight departing at a later time and other benefits or facilities according to the airline’s discretion.
When enough passengers do not vacate seats, the airline can deny them booking but it has to pay monetary compensation under monetary compensation in accordance with the provisions of CAR, Section 3, Series M, Part IV of DGCA rules.
As per the DGCA regulations, a passenger cannot take the airline to court for being denied boarding as airlines are allowed to bump off passengers.
Usually passengers who are about to be bumped off are not allowed to check-in. The incident on United Airlines aircraft was a rarity in that sense. A passenger can only be allowed to check into a flight with a boarding pass. Hence if a boarding pass is issued to a passenger, it is the fault of the airline if it issues passes to passengers that will exceed the seating capacity.
Finally, bumping off is a legal practice. If the passengers refuse to abide by the request of the airline, it is taken as refusal to cooperate with safety procedures of the aircraft and something that could potentially delay the flight schedule. It then leaves the matter in the hands of the airport security to remove the passenger from the plane. Police or CISF or other security forces may exercise force.