Flight disruptions have become the new norm.
So far this year, 23% of all domestic and international flights in the United States have been delayed or disrupted, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware. On the Friday before July 4, the figure rose to almost 30%.
That means more paying customers than available seats on planes – and passengers make money by giving up their seats on overbooked planes, to thousands of dollars apiece. But airlines will not only offer you that much money, says Willis Orlando, senior aviation expert at Scott̵[ads1]7;s Cheap Flights. Rather, he says, you have to negotiate – and he has some tips for any enterprising passenger who is willing to sacrifice his itinerary for a maximum amount of money.
The airline’s offer will typically start with a speech over an intercom. If you have not boarded the plane yet, you will hear a street agent offering a sum of money to give you your seat. If you are already on the plane, there will be a flight attendant looking for volunteers to get up and return to the airport.
Orlando’s first tip: Express interest quickly, but never take the airline’s starting price.
“If you’re flexible and you want the extra money in your pocket … run to the front and ask them what the last person gets,” Orlando says. “It’s always the sweetest deal.”
You can also sweeten other parts of the rebooked experience. Orlando says airlines are often willing to let you into their exclusive lounges or let you choose a high-value seat near the front of the plane on the rebooked flight. All you have to do is ask.
“They want guaranteed numbers … almost no matter what,” Orlando says. “Volunteering to get off puts the bargaining chip on your court.”
Orlando says that airports in major cities such as Chicago, Washington DC and Los Angeles are more likely to experience flight disruptions than others, as they are frequent hubs for stopovers. The airlines that most often encounter involuntary passengers are Frontier, Southwest and American Airlines, he adds.
The above-average dollar numbers are probably for two reasons, Orlando says: to ensure that the plane takes off on time and to preserve the airline’s reputation. If not enough passengers volunteer to board a plane, airlines must forcibly “bump” passengers, often resulting in a customer service nightmare.
“If a plane is delayed by two hours due to a problem getting people off a plane, there are not enough crews and pilots to make sure it does not cruise through their entire network,” says Orlando. “Before the pandemic, they did not risk their entire network falling apart with one or two broken flights.”
In the event of a forced shock, you will at least be compensated for it: Federal law requires the airline to pay you up to four times your fare, up to $ 1550 depending on when your rebooked flight departs.
Flights are usually overbooked due to the airline’s optimism, says Orlando. This is especially true this year: When spring came, the airlines planned a large number of flights in anticipation of high demand for summer flights.
This demand prediction came true, says Orlando, but the airlines did not foresee another problem: the lack of available staff to man these flights. Some crew members who were laid off or fired during the height of the pandemic did not return, and others are missing aircraft due to Covid-19 infections during the country’s extended omicron wave.
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