The Illogical Science of Boarding a Plane

The Illogical Science of Boarding a Plane

So the last time I wrote about problems on a plane it was about using an employee’s tickets.

Today we will discuss overbooking.

Just about every flight is overbooked, usually you have a few people who don’t show up for a flight and to have a good “revenue” flight you need at least 85% (i.e. load factor), or so of the plane to have paying passengers.

And if you have some empty seats usually there are some people going “standby” who will happily fill those seats and usually there are crew members “dead heading” back to a station (airport), or going to work another flight.

But what if you don’t?

What if the plane is full, the manifest (the attendance list), is loaded and everyone showed up?

And you have crew who need to travel?

Then as most of us have witnessed the crew offered incentives to get people to give up their seat. Food vouchers, future ticket credits, drink tickets, whatever it takes.

Over the weekend we saw the video of a passenger being drug out of a plane because he was chosen by computer to give up his seat.

Now I haven’t been working in the airline biz in 12 years so this computer (lottery), of choosing who gives up a seat is new to me.

Also from the four digit flight number of that United Airlines (my former employer) and it was going to Louisville (SDF), I’m guessing it’s a code share (not UA flight), using a smaller regional airline. Sky West, Republic, etc. they handle those smaller feeder flights.

Those are not direct United employees and sometimes things are different.

Not being drug off the plane by your leg on the seat of your pants down the aisle.

But different.

I’ve heard of situations where threats were made on board (to other passengers and or crew), and the alleged person was brought off the equipment (plane), with more dignity.

When I started in the airline business at the beginning of the millennium, we were just handed the airline “Bill of Rights” from the Department of Transportation, it was a laundry list of things to do to make flying better for the public.

I personally had to make sure ticket refunds originally paid by credit card were out the door in seven days and those paid by cash or check were done in 21 days.
And we were audited and made sure we adhered to those rules.

There were rules for the flight crew as well regarding delays, boarding, the whole nine yards.

We have to remember in this day and age of cell phones with video everything is recorded.

Now I admit in the airline business its not always pretty, people get left, baggage gets lost & damaged and flights get delayed & cancelled.

But rarely are their issues with people giving up a seat.

My advice is to “upping the ante” on the incentives to get someone to take the next flight. Usually you get a few volunteers on the first round of asking.

Wave a $ 300 future use ticket and some food and drink coupons and you may get too many people wanting to sit in the concourse getting hammered waiting for the next flight.

But also realize the tremendous stress the flight crews are under, time is everything, there are fines for being late, missed connections hurts everyone, crews have only so many hours to work and once they hit that number, then a new crew has to come in.

I’m not saying what happened on that flight was right, it was not and nor is that normal.

Believe it or not (and those of you fly regularly), know most times its smooth sailing.

But when it’s not when it needs to be investigated and yes those “bill of rights” still matter.

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    Charles W. Johnson

    I'm a lifelong writer (since I was 8 years old), and have been doing this blog in some form or fashion since 2004. I'm a DePaul University alum, class of 1999 and prior to that Brother Rice class of 1994. . And I appreciate you taking to the time to read what I have to say, feel free to email

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