As many of you are probably aware, airlines often oversell flights, and in some cases they need to bump confirmed passengers because they have more confirmed passengers than seats. When that happens, airlines are first required to ask for volunteers, who will be removed from the flight in exchange for agreed upon compensation. Only as a last resort will passengers be involuntarily denied boarding.
Anyway, on Friday night I was scheduled to fly from Los Angeles to Phoenix to Tampa, with the first flight leaving at 9:30PM, and the connecting flight leaving at 1AM. I really wasn’t looking forward to this itinerary, as it would be my first domestic redeye in a while. I do everything I can to avoid them, as I’m really getting too old for domestic redeyes.
Before getting to the airport I checked how full the flights would be, and noticed they were both sold out (which meant the inventory showed as “F0Y0”). I wasn’t too optimistic that they’d need volunteers, since I don’t remember the last time I’ve been on a flight that needed volunteers. Airlines are just getting better at managing inventory nowadays.
This was the closest I’ve been to getting bumped in a long time, so I figured I’d share my experience.
My near-bump experience, which (sort of) backfired
When I showed up at the gate for my Los Angeles to Phoenix flight I asked if they’d need volunteers.
“You want to volunteer?”
“Sure, I’m not really excited about taking a redeye.”
“We’re offering a $500 voucher for taking the next flight, is that okay?”
“Works for me!”
“What’s your final destination?”
After the agent typed for a few seconds he said he didn’t have another flight to Tampa available. Of course I had done my research in advance, so gave him a couple of flights that worked. Moments later he had me protected on the new routing.
“Just hang around for a bit and we’ll give you the voucher and new flights when the door closes.”
I had a good exit row aisle seat, though during the boarding process my upgrade cleared, so the other gate agent paged me. The gate agent I was working with told him to skip me, given that I was being bumped.
Finally 12 minutes before departure the gate agent said “we don’t need you, let’s go.” Fair enough, when you agree to take a bump there’s always the risk that some people don’t show up, and typically agents still make you fly then (though I’ve had situations where flights have been so oversold that they bump you in advance).
We start walking down the jet bridge and he closed the door behind me and the two other volunteers. Literally a minute later I could see through the passengers who were booked on the flight looking through the glass panel in the jet bridge door, unhappy that they missed the flight. Perhaps that’s part of what makes getting bumped so tough nowadays — the airlines keep closing the door earlier and earlier.
The gate agent handed me a boarding pass for a middle seat in economy and said my bag would have to be checked.
“I was trying to help you guys out and now my upgrade was given away, seat changed, and I have to gate check my bag? That doesn’t seem very fair.”
He agreed, so compromised by letting me gate check the bag so that it would show up on the jet bridge on arrival, rather than on the carousel at my final destination. He also went onboard and got my exit row economy seat back. Of course I got an evil glare from the passengers who was moved to a middle seat from the exit row aisle seat. I still didn’t get the upgrade I had cleared into, though.
Ultimately it wasn’t a big deal, and if anything I enjoy the rush of volunteering to bump. There’s always a lot of uncertainty, and sometimes they may not need volunteers, even if it definitely looks like they will initially.
On one hand this was exciting, as it’s the first time in several years that I’ve been on a flight that looked like it would need volunteers. At the same time, I’ve volunteered dozens of times in the past (many years ago), and this was one of the more poorly handled situations. The agent first made it sound like the bump was a sure thing, and then gave away my upgrade and decent economy seat. Fortunately he at least got me back my exit row seat, and my gate checked bag could be picked up on the jet bridge, rather than on the carousel on arrival.
With Thanksgiving coming up, hopefully some of you guys have luck with a voluntary denied boarding!