United airlines sparked controversy this week for dragging a doctor off a plane in Chicago. They got themselves in all sorts of trouble due to their boss giving a diplomatic response to the media, but then sending an e-mail around to his staff which blamed the passenger, which inevitably soon found its way on to the internet. As a result their stock has nose dived and he’s been forced to eat humble pie.
Incidentally, a good parody of the incident here from the Jimmy Kimmel show.
The reason for this incident is supposedly that the plane was “overbooked”. A practice by which airlines deliberately book on board more passengers than there are seats on the plane. Actually, the true reason is that they needed to move several crew members around. So this was more down to United not hiring enough staff and being overstretched and putting its customers at the bottom of its list of priorities.
But even this overbooking business is a load of baloney. The argument from the airlines is that they need to overbook because a certain percentage of passengers won’t show up and they don’t want to lose revenue. That’s grade A BS. I missed a long distant flight recently, through no fault of my own (entirely BA’s fault) and not only have I not be refunded for that flight that I didn’t take, but they are being very slow supplying me with the paperwork to put in an insurance claim against them (likely because they know that if I do put in such a claim, the insurer will pay me off, then sue them for the costs plus expenses). Airlines overbook because they are greedy and view their passengers as little more than self loading cargo.
What I think a lot of passengers don’t realise is to what extent you surrender your rights when boarding a flight. Airlines offer no certainty that they will get you there on time (or even arrive at all!). The conditions of carriage you enjoy with public transport, does not exist in the airline industry. And if you think things are bad in Europe, they are worse in America. Boarding a plane in the US and you are essentially entering a totalitarian state ruled over by bossy air hostesses with a nasty case of Sanford prison syndrome. And the one piece of legislation in Europe that gives passengers at least some rights? Well that comes from the EU and will almost certainly be chucked on the fire with brexit.
Budget airlines get a lot of stick for how badly they treat their passengers, although Ryanair has been trying to change its tune recently and be a bit nicer. But I think they deserve credit for at least being up front. They are a budget service, no frills, yes we’ll treat you like self loading freight, but we are letting you know that up front and we are much cheaper. The non-budget airlines instead pretend that they are something better, when in truth if the shit hits the fan, they will abandon you, as BA abandoned me for four days at Heathrow (with diarrhoea), or drag a doctor off a plane with patients waiting. Yet they’ll still charge several times the amount for essentially the same service.
Ryanair have plans to open a transatlantic service. Right now given the way the likes of BA or United treats its passengers, I’d probably fly Ryanair and save myself a few hundred, which I could then use to treat myself to a nice hotel room in New York when I arrive. And I welcome the day when budget airlines put the established airlines out of business.