If anyone didn’t know that airlines overbook, they do now — here’s an overbooking solution
While I don’t always take the airlines’ side of things, I am somewhat sympathetic to the problem they have when passengers don’t show up. But these days, many of those no-shows are to my mind their own fault. The recent Lufthansa issue is a prime example. Here are the explanation and an overbooking solution.
While it happens that emergencies or mistakes result in people missing planes, in my experience, most no-shows are for one of two reasons: not making it to the airport in time, or having a ticket that’s not worth canceling.
Airlines can’t do much about passengers arriving late. Traffic happens, and sometimes people are either too optimistic or are unlucky. But having a ticket not worth canceling is something airlines could remedy if they wanted to do so. It is a simple overbooking solution.
For illustration, sometimes passengers buy heavily discounted tickets in a sale. But even inexpensive tickets usually have the same airline change fee — $200 with the legacy carriers, $150 for most other airlines not named Southwest. So, if a passenger has a $99 ticket and can’t use it, the airline won’t give you credit towards a future ticket. Nor will they let you sell it to someone else (which is what you could do if you bought a theater ticket you couldn’t use). This means there’s no benefit to telling them you aren’t coming. Plus, should a passenger be annoyed at the airline for giving them no credit, well, hanging onto the reservation can feel like a bit of revenge.
Moreover, even if there’s a 1 percent chance of using the ticket, it’s better than getting nothing back.
The same sort of thing happens sometimes with roundtrip tickets when return plans change. Airlines may charge so much to reissue the ticket with a new return ticket that it’s cheaper to just buy a new ticket for the flight home. And, the way the rules go, no joke, if you tell an airline before travel that you are not using the return half of a ticket, they generally charge passengers a penalty for their honesty. Travelers will have to redo the ticket as a one-way.
In these cases, it’s better just to fly the outbound and not show up for the return, or cancel at the very last minute. There’s also the advantage that if plans change back, you have the flight you want. (While it’s rare, as a travel agent I’ve had someone buy a new return, only to end up back with plan A.)
A solution is simple. Always give passengers some credit for canceling a flight they don’t think they will use. It doesn’t have to be the full ticket value, but it should be something. People are much more likely to do the “right” thing if they have an incentive. Then airlines will have a better idea of how many passengers expect to show up.
At that point, there’s only that little matter of reminding passengers to allow plenty of time to get to the airport.