Meet Me in the Cheap Seats

Recent events in the news has me thinking about what is not mentioned when it comes to airlines contracts of carriage. Did you book your flight online? By clicking the I agree or continue to pay button, you are agreeing to the fare rules, conduct rules and baggage rules. Yes, I said rules because that is the terminology used by United Airlines. American Airlines uses the term, Conditions of Carriage.

You may not even think about it because you have been purchasing airfare for years and never considered the “what if” scenario in the event of an oversold flight. I have been on many flights and encountered the voluntary request to give up a seat because the flight is oversold. As well, I have been on flights where the flight attendant asked for volunteers to give up their seat for weight distribution on smaller aircraft. The procedure is simple, the gate agent asks for volunteers first, if no takers they will start random selection. Or, is it so random as they want you to believe?

Here is actual verbiage from United’s Contract of Carriage:

Rule 25 – Denied Boarding compensation section 2. “Boarding Priorities – If a flight is Oversold, no one may be denied boarding against his/her will until UA or other carrier personnel first ask for volunteers who will give up their reservations willingly in exchange for compensation as determined by UA. If there are not enough volunteers, other Passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with UA’s boarding priority:”

Sub section b. “The priority of all other confirmed passengers may be determined based on a passenger’s fare class, itinerary, status of frequent flyer program membership, and the time in which the passenger presents him/herself for check-in without advanced seat assignment.”

So, if I break down sub section b., I read it this way: If I as a passenger pays a higher fare than my seat mate or have status with the airline frequent flyer program and check in early; I am then low person on the involuntary totem pole. Does this sound random to you or does it sound like the running cometary of the haves and have nots.

With the big three airlines (United, American and Delta) rolling out basic economy seating, be very careful of the limitations that come with that seat. Those limitations may be bringing on only a carry-on, no possibility of an upgrade, or accepting a seat assignment at check in. If you want to reserve a seat prior to the flight it will cost. The bottom line is that you get what you pay for.

This strengthens my reasons to use a travel consultant. We know or at the very least have access to reviewing the rules and restrictions prior to pushing that purchase button. Any travel consultant that has their clients best interest first will advise the client to the restrictions prior to purchase. Most economy seating comes with restrictions, one that seems to baffle my clients is, if they want to change their itinerary. Most and by no means all economy tickets have a $200 per ticket change fee. That is $400 per couple every time you cancel one flight and rebook another flight on the same itinerary. If you call the airline travel desk it may even cost you more. At least most travel agencies will charge $10-25 to make the change. Yes, it takes time from our day and it’s only fair to be compensated.

The picture below shows the link on American’s web booking site where one can read the condition of carriage and once you hit that purchase button – you agreed to everything contained in the conditions. But hey, who reads the fine print? What United Airlines allowed to happen was a draconian effort to enforce a rule that seems to elude the printed conditions and that is their flight staff gets priority over fare paying passengers when it suits the airline.

A good piece of advice that was handed down to me years ago by my mother was to know what you are buying. I am the strange person that will skim the parts of the conditions, contract or end user license agreement (EULA). Despite the terms set forth, herein, as made part of the eight paragraph, I still make the purchase. Sometimes a bargain is just too good to pass and the potential consequences is that I may be asked to voluntarily surrender my seat or else.