Do you have a “Ticket to Ride”?

Unless you’ve been camping in the Himalayas with no Wi-Fi you have seen the United video of the doctor being dragged off the plane. Google estimates 4 million hits almost every minute. That’s mind boggling. Needless to say, this has been a major wake-up call for passengers and the airlines alike. If you listen to the Beatles song “Ticket to Ride” you could come up with some clever lyrics substituting United.  I'd love to hear from any song writer’s out there. Feel free to email me your lyrics.

So how could this all happen?

Well the practice of over booking has been around for a very long time. In the “old days”, it didn’t happen very often. However since the number of flights have been reduced and planes have been flying more fully booked, it was bound to catch up with the airlines and it did.

The culprit: airline overbooking. That was reported to be the underlying cause of the United disaster and is not clearly understood by the flying public. We expect the airline to sell 1 ticket for 1 seat. But no, if a plane has 190 seats, the airline can sell 200 tickets. "What?" you say, shaking your head. Yes, the airlines have done this, since the beginning of aviation. And it’s legal click here to read what the Department of Transportation (DOT) allows re over booking and bumping.

Why do the airlines do it? Isn’t it bad for PR and customer loyalty? 

Well, airlines have been overbooking flights to compensate for the small—but consistent—number of passengers who fail to show up. (This happened more frequently when airline tickets were fully refundable) It had little repercussions then, when flights averaged about half-full. In the 1980s, as air travel increased, the airlines and the Feds came up with a solution:  recruit volunteers who aren’t in a hurry to give up their seat, for a price based solely on negotiation. When that fails, then “involuntarily denied boarding” begins and airlines select which passengers to leave at the gate. (Airlines set their own criteria for bumping different categories of passengers).

For airlines, however, bumping has gotten more expensive. Five years ago, the DOT raised the penalties that airlines must pay to involuntary "bumpees." Even though a recent study shows airlines are bumping fewer passengers than they used to, the problem hasn’t gone away. Last year, 40,629 individuals were bumped off overbooked flights and 434,425 travelers gave up their seats, willingly for cash, in 2016.

What are your rights? Four times the value of the original tickets—is the amount required under tough new rules set by the DOT. 

What’s the best way to avoid the bump? First, it helps to know how airlines decide which fliers to boot. The DOT says that, based on the cases it’s seen and the airlines’ own customer service policies, those most likely to get bumped fall into the following categories:

  • Last to check in
  • Paid the lowest fare
  • Don’t have an advance seat assignment

Airlines are reluctant to offend their most loyal passengers, so elite members of their frequent-flier programs are least likely to be involuntarily bumped. Before you volunteer to accept an airline’s offer of a free ticket in exchange for giving up your seat, be sure to inquire about any restrictions. Are there blackout dates? Can the voucher be used only on a space-available basis? Is it transferable? Does it expire? Could you get bumped when flying on a voucher? (You already know the answer to that).

Got that voucher? Let's turn it into a great new vacation!

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Airlines' Eleven - A Movie Sequel??

No, not a sequel to the 2001 remake of the Ocean’s Eleven movie starring the ensemble cast of  George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy García, and Julia Roberts. But it is a sequel to my last newsletter. Last issue, I re-posted about TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. I am very proud of the many of you, who have gotten the message and signed up for Global Entry.  Kudos to you, savvy travelers!

However, there is one piece of information that has not been understood by many. TSA is our US based security. It does not automatically apply to foreign carriers. I have had clients complain about an airline because they didn’t get TSA PreCheck on an international flight. That is because an international carrier would have to go through all the TSA security requirements, which, as you can imagine, is not an easy process. So most of them have not done that.

Good News: In September Lufthansa, became the first European airline to offer PreCheck. Since that success, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is adding more foreign carriers to the list to offer the service. Members fly (pun intended) through security at more than 180 U.S. airports. No need to remove shoes, belts, light jackets, toiletries or laptops.

Just recently, 11 more airlines, including international carriers Emirates, Avianca, and Virgin Atlantic (the first U.K. carrier to join TSA PreCheck) along with Spirit and two smaller carriers serving Florida and the Caribbean, Aruba Airlines and Miami Air International. The others are Boutique Airlines, a small, San Francisco-based regional line; Southern Airways Express, which operates a fleet of commuter planes in the South and Mid-Atlantic states; Sunwing, a low-cost Canadian carrier; Key Lime Air, a Colorado charter company that flies to Wyoming under the name Denver Air Connection, and Xtra Airways, a Florida based charter company. Xtra flew many of the charter flights to Cuba before commercial flights were granted permission in late 2016.

Until recently, Etihad Airways had been the only foreign airline to offer this perk to passengers (All of us, on the October India trip, were very happy to have. In addition, we  cleared US Customs, using our Global Entry, in Abu Dhabi. How cool is that!).

Other large international airlines are interested in joining the PreCheck club, but, the process is complicated: airlines must meet all TSA security requirements and upgrade their reservations systems to sync with the U.S. government’s Secure Flight prescreening system. It remains to be seen whether other heavyweights like British Airways and Japan Airlines will join in. Fortunately, most airlines in North America are compliant. Aeromexico, Air Canada, Alaska, Allegiant, American, Cape Air, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, OneJet, Seaborne, Southwest, Sun Country, United, Virgin America, and WestJet are among the 30 airlines offering TSA PreCheck.

TSA PreCheck does take some of the hassle out of airport check in. Now that there are more airlines that will offer it, where are you going to travel? 

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