Video footage of the forced removal of a passenger from an United Airlines aircraft caused so much negative media attention, United has changed its overbooking policy. However questions are still being raised about the ‘bumping’ of passengers by airlines. Are they allowed to do this? Why do they do it? What are my rights?
Does my travel insurance cover me? Although the circumstances surrounding this particular incident (i.e. the flight was not actually overbooked, but the airline needed to ensure that some of its aircrew were in the destination airport in order to fly planes the next day) were slightly unusual, it is in fact fairly common practice for airlines to sell more tickets for a flight than there are seats.
Why? Well their statistics reveal that between 5% and 10% of passengers who have paid for a seat do not actually turn up. So, rather than fly a partially empty plane, they build in an ‘overload’ factor. Now that may sound eminently sensible, and many people will say ‘so what’s the problem?’ When in fact the problem is obvious, what happens when everyone who has bought a ticket turns up? If this does happen, the airline will usually make an announcement while everyone is sitting in the departure lounge and ask for volunteers to give up their seats and travel later – typically offering a financial reward. For people flying from the EU the reward is €250 for flights up to 1500km, € 400 for flights over 1500km and up to 3500km and € 600 for extra-EU flights over 3500km. However, if the airline finds that not enough people come forward they will often increase these offers in order to get people to volunteer.
In the unlikely event that they are still overbooked then the airline can make an arbitrary decision and simply prevent people boarding. So what will your travel insurance do for you? Most policies do not provide any cover for ‘seat bumping’, after all what is there to cover? The airline has to provide you with another flight, so you have not lost the cost of your ticket and it has also paid you compensation as shown above. What you actually have is the inconvenience of being ‘bumped’ – and that is not something a travel insurance policy would normally look to cover, but Postcard Travel Insurance does.
Postcard Travel Insurance provides cover should this happen to you – provided you did not volunteer to give up your seat (i.e. the airline decided that you were not getting on the plane because it was overbooked), Postcard Travel Insurance will pay you an inconvenience benefit for every 4 hours wait for another flight up to a maximum of 40 hours.
Stephen Howard, Head of Product for tifgroup, which underwrite Postcard, said: “Postcard has been designed to provide the cover people expect from a travel policy – that they may not find in other products. “At Postcard we listen to our customers to find out what they do and do not like about travel insurance, then we design our policies accordingly. Seat bumping, missed departure from any cause and terrorism are covered so you can enjoy your holiday worry free.“