You have probably heard stories of people either voluntarily or involuntarily getting bumped from a flight because of overbooking.
It is more common in the US and Europe with their larger aviation markets than Australia and an infinitely larger number of flights to accommodate you on.
They also have more extensive hub-and-spoke networks, meaning that if one flight is overbooked (e.g. Los Angeles to New York via Dallas/Fort Worth) there are more options to re-route you (through Phoenix or Chicago instead of Dallas/Fort Worth).
So keep the following lesson in mind when travelling on a flight within the US or Europe, but it never hurts to volunteer for flights you take in other regions too.
Recently I took a United Airlines flight from Austin to Minneapolis, connecting through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
Upon checking in for both flights in Austin, my first flight from Austin to Chicago was not full, meaning there was no option to add myself to the voluntary bump list, but the self-service kiosk asked me if I wanted to put myself on the list for the second flight, which I did. It printed out a form for me to sign and give to the gate agent upon arrival in Chicago.
We arrived at Gate B12, with my connecting flight to Minneapolis departing from B21, but along the way there was a United Club. As I am a United Gold member, I thought, ‘I’ll just pop into the lounge for a quick dinner and drink and then head to the gate.’
When I told the customer service agent at the lounge entrance of my plan to get bumped from the flight, she said I had good chances as it was overbooked by six passengers, but wisely advised me to be quick with my dinner, or just go straight to the gate at that time as they need time to call you and issue you with your compensation and alternative travel plans.
But me being the Cookie Monster that I am let my animalistic instincts get the best of me and I made a bee line for the food in the lounge.
Whilst leisurely enjoying my mushroom soup, bean salad and cucumber water, unbeknown to me, I was being called four times at the gate.
Arriving at the gate 15 minutes later, I approached the desk and asked whether they wanted to bump me – I’d missed my chance. They said there were other volunteers, but as I was a United Gold member, they gave me first preference and repeatedly called my name, but to no avail.
I retreated from the desk thinking, ‘well, my friend coming from San Francisco who I’m meeting in Minneapolis is scheduled to arrive an hour later than me at 11:30pm, so surely if they had bumped me, I would’ve had to stay overnight in Chicago and take a morning flight because there wouldn’t be any more flights to Minneapolis tonight.’ I thought this would’ve inconvenienced our accommodation plans we’d made for the night.
Oh no, I was wrong – there was a final United flight from Chicago to Minneapolis an hour later!
So, that damn bean salad (which wasn’t even that good) and a pretentious glass of cucumber water cost me $400 USD in travel credit to use on United or any Star Alliance airline!
Let this be a lesson to you (and me): be at the gate, and be at the gate on-time! A few extra minutes of sound planning may pay for your next trip…
You can watch my reaction to my mistake here (turn up the volume and please excuse one particular superlative word about halfway through):
This video originally appeared on my Facebook page.