Let's solve the overbooking problem with a simple plan

Here’s a modest proposal to solve, or at least alleviate, the current airline overbooking problem.

Yes, I’m aware that overbooking was not the cause of the Dr. Dao incident, but that unfortunate event brought overbooking into the limelight once again.

Airlines want to maximize their seat use, and as long as they don’t allow two adults to share one seat, 100% seat use is the ideal. One person, one seat, one ticket.

Airlines also don’t care if the seat is occupied. They just care if it has been paid for.
If they could sell all seats on a flight and no one showed up, that would be paradise to their bottom line.

So here’s my proposal. ** Airlines sell seats, and the purchase of a seat is non-refundable.** It does not matter if you show up or not. That way, if 100% of the flight was sold, they have the maximum income possible.

Set a deadline for arrival to claim your pre-paid seat; let’s say 15 minutes prior to flight time. If you miss that deadline, your seat can be resold. If it is resold, you get a refund (the airline loses nothing, you lose nothing). If it is not resold, you have paid for a flight that you didn’t take. Tough tickets. Plan accordingly.

The airline might even be able to sell your no-show ticket* at a higher price than you paid,* because now it’s a scarce commodity. Yay, airline stockholders!

This isn’t that unusual a concept. If I buy a ticket to a concert and don’t show up, does the concert refund my money? No. If I reserve a hotel room and don’t show up in time, does the hotel refund my money? No, even if they sell the same room twice. You buy something that cannot be returned or exchanged, you pay for the privilege.

I think my plan is fair for all parties and will avoid many conflicts. What say you?

Your plan has much less flexibility than the current system, and is economically inefficient.

Yeah, you’re not getting a free lunch out of this. If airlines could reliably sell seats for more right before a flight, they’d just reserve more seats to sell that way. The fact that they don’t, despite massive investment in pricing algorithms, indicates that they’re going to end up selling for less.

Here’s what will actually happen: Airline customers will realize that since airlines can’t oversell flights and some percentage of people aren’t going to show up, they can just not book a flight, show up at the gate, and buy a seat very cheap. After all, the airline really doesn’t that seat to go unsold. But of course that means that the pre-sold tickets have to be sold for more to make up for the bargain-seekers.

Right now, a ticket on a plane is a very complex bundle of rights and options that (imperfectly) balances the needs of travelers, historical precedent, union agreements, the profit motive of airlines, etc. There are problems with it, but when you see a complicated system with interdependent parts and messy contracts that have agglomerated over many years, it’s pure naivete to think that you can fix it by paring away the complexity, because the complexity is inherent in the problem itself.

Logistics for systems like this are inherently complex. Complex systems don’t have simple solutions.

There are so many holes in your assumptions. Take this one, for example:

I’m pretty sure this statement isn’t true, but even if we assume that it is: Society should care a lot. Every seat on a plane that goes empty is wasted cost. Airlines have massive capital investment costs, so if they have to fly 5% more flights because they have 5% more vacancies, that means their costs go up, so each seat that’s sold is more expensive. But when you increase costs, demand falls, so now airlines are serving fewer people with more flights.

So, now we have to build more airplanes, bigger airports (more gates) to serve fewer people than we used to. And we’re burning more jet fuel per person. We need more air traffic control capacity. And so on.

And all those people who can’t afford to fly any more are driving more places, or just not traveling. Deaths per passenger mile are much higher in cars, so we could probably calculate how many more people, on average, will die each year as a result of this less flexible airline policy.

Just because it sucks when you get bumped from a flight doesn’t mean that a system that eliminated that would be a net improvement.

Who decides 15 minutes before a flight that they want to go somewhere? Are you expecting people just to go hang out at the airport in hopes of scoring a last minute seat to an unplanned destination?

What stops an airline from breaking this rule?

I am expecting that, although not to an unplanned destination. Plenty of people fly standby currently, which is basically the same thing.

But if I’m wrong and there aren’t enough to cover the percentage of people who miss their flights, this doesn’t really fix the problem with the OP’s plans. We still end up with less flexibility, airplanes flying with fewer passengers, and an increase in the price of tickets.

At check-in? At the gate?

Explain that to the person who arrived on time, only to have a long check-in line caused by insufficient staffing, ignorant travelers ahead of therm in line, etc. Then there’s TSA security to navigate, the time from TSA to gate … Shall I go on?

As already mentioned, flying is a set of complex logistics, not just for the airline, but the airport, and oh yes, the passengers, too.

Who is setting these rules in place?

Pretty sure this is not true because this is why they have overbooking in the first place - to fill up the seats of people who didn’t show up.

To speak to your premise that there is an overbooking problem:


In 2015, less than 1 in 1,000 passengers accepted voluntary compensation to take another flight; less than 1 in 10,000 was involuntarily denied boarding.

Not sure what is wrong with the current solution. The one that does not include beating the shit out of people who have already boarded. You guys know that’s not part of the plan, right?

In situations such as those, they should just keep upping the price incentive for getting off the plane. And only take volunteers who have accepted your price for leaving. Even if the price ends up being a couple grand.

Too pricey? Tough. Don’t let people on board you don’t want to let fly, and you won’t have to pay out the nose to remove them. If you tell them you’re overbooked before they board, then an upgrade to first class for their rescheduled flight, or $400, or whatever the standard payout is, will be plenty.

There’s already a significant penalty for missing a flight. Airlines may charge up to $200 domestically or $450 internationally to rebook a flight you missed through your own fault, not to mention that you might not be able to get the original fare you paid. This should be enough of a deterrent that most people will avoid missing a flight if at all possible.

Some of the no-shows are going to be people who missed their connections due to delays on the airline’s part, in which case they won’t be charged. Others may miss their flight due to unexpected problems, such as a traffic jam, weather, etc. In either case the proposed penalty isn’t going to solve the problem.

In those situations, I say they should tell the randomly selected people to get off the plane, and if they don’t get off the plane, ALL the passengers should have to deplane, and then those 4 people just aren’t allowed back on. And they should tell all the passengers they are being held up because of those 4 people.

Bad idea, in my opinion. I don’t know what ignorant sheep you may be acquainted with, but in my experience, no one will believe four innocent strangers are the reason they were marched off a plane when it was clearly airline employees in airline uniforms that demanded it of them.

Besides, the problem we’re trying to solve is demanding people get off the plane. Getting 100 people off will emphatically not be easier than removing 1 or 4. What we need to do is not force people off planes in the first place. Preventing them from boarding is infinitely easier and will incite less violence.

Good idea, if a small group of people will not allow you to break the law, abuse their rights, and abrogate their contract, let’s do it with the entire plane at once.

There may be some fuel savings (admittedly, fuel ain’t cheap), but the plane still has to go to the next destination; it can’t just take the day off.

Sure they will. Right before making everyone get off, they go up and down the aisles pointing out the people who wouldn’t get off, and loudly mocking them. Sort of like “THESE people, in seats 6A, 8B, 13C, and 16A, wouldn’t get off the plane after we told them to, because they are too special. Therefore, we have no choice but to off-load everyone until we can resolve this issue. There will be photos of them outside at the gate to ensure you all know who is causing you to be late. Have a good day!”

The OP reminds me of this: Monty Python - How To Do It - YouTube

I’m really not seeing the problem this is meant to solve. Overbooking plus voluntary bumping ought to work just fine. Just set the penalties for involuntary bumping so high that they always rely on volunteers. The allegedly simple plan just makes things worse for everyone.

It’s less of a deterrent than making people just buy a whole new ticket for a later flight. Which is a good thing, because implementing a financially catastrophic incentive for missing a flight can incent some dangerous behavior.

iamthewalrus(:3= suggests that under the OP’s proposed system, people who currently can barely afford to fly will probably choose to drive more, since ticket prices will be higher - with the result that there will be more traffic fatalities. But there’s another consequence of the new system: If a missed flight will result in having to buy a whole new ticket, then people will drive like lunatics to get to the airport to make absolutely certain they don’t miss their flight, and there will be additional traffic fatalities because of this. If my wife and I have purchased first-class tickets from Detroit to Japan for a total of $10,000, and I’m running late because there was a 50-car pileup on I-94 (not one I’m part of, mind you, just one that creates a massive delay for me), I’m probably going to try some crazy shit to get to the airport on time to avoid losing our $10,000 investment. The incentive to drive like a panicked idiot goes way down if the total rebook fee for the two of us is less than $1,000.

Similarly, there will be bloody fistfights at the security lines if people feel they’re at risk for losing thousands of dollars instead of hundreds of dollars by missing their flights.

I’m less in favor of a law, more in favor of an airline regulation or procedure. Could be done either way.

There is an overbooking problem if overbooking is used. Anywhere. Ever. Somebody is going to be dissapointed.

On the contrary, it’s very simple. You pay, you are guaranteed to fly, baring other unforseen events, like equipment breakdown. You cannot be bumped just because more seats are sold than are available, at least not without mutually agreeable compensation.

What makes you think the price for a seat will decline over time? Right now, the opposite happens.

If the airline pricing algorithms are so fantastic, allowing them to adjust the price of a ticket from the original offering to the liftoff, why can’t they figure out the best price down to the last minute?

Onceuponatime, I often traveled on military standby. This meant I could get on the plane at the last minute for half-fare as long as at least one seat was unsold. Sometimes I was unwilling to gamble, and I paid full price, but the choice was mine. Sometimes I didn’t mind the uncertainty in order to save money, sometimes I did. My proposal allows a similar condition, at the passenger’s option.

Punishing the group for the actions of a few who stand up for their rights is a favorite tool of tyrants.

Imagine the lawsuits. It would be a breach of contract to remove those 4 people against their will, but now you are talking about breaching the contract with the entire plane full of people?

I think you’d just be better off upping the voluntary incentive offer, rather than dealing with the lawsuits from the entire plane of passengers that you have violated.