[OT] Can anybody explain overbooked flights to me?

Cidu Bill on Nov 19th 2017

The way I see it, plane fares are non-refundable, so the airlines don’t have to worry about losing revenue because of empty seats. Yet they have to compensate people they bounce, and the whole process slows things down and pisses people off.

So what’s the point? 

Filed in Bill Bickel, airlines | 59 responses so far

59 Responses to “[OT] Can anybody explain overbooked flights to me?”

  1. Rob W Nov 19th 2017 at 11:46 pm 1

    Two things:

    1. Not all tickets are non-refundable. The last time I booked a flight, it was an option to look for non-refundable tickets only. Those tickets are usually cheaper so it’s what people look for.
    2. I guess that airlines are expecting a certain percentage of people to change their plans either to another flight or cancel their ticket which usually gives them a credit with the airline that they can use in the future.

    That said, it’s been a while since I’ve been on an overbooked flight. Are they still offering a free ticket anywhere in the continental US they fly or is it just an extra bag of pretzels on the flight they’re switched to?

  2. furrykef Nov 20th 2017 at 12:00 am 2

    The thing is you don’t hear about all the times a flight was oversold and they didn’t have to bounce anybody. And they have to oversell the flight or else they will almost certainly be flying a plane with some seats empty, and airlines operate on such thin margins that it’s too expensive to let that happen too often.

    (Incidentally, while I’m far from an expert on the topic, I’ve done research on stuff like this because I was designing an airline management simulator.)

  3. furrykef Nov 20th 2017 at 12:07 am 3

    Let’s say you have a flight on a plane with 500 seats. You sell 500 tickets and only 495 people show up. Now you’re flying with five empty seats, yet your expenses are nearly the same as if all 500 showed up. You’re missing out on money.

    Now let’s say you sold 505 tickets and the same 5 people failed to show up. You oversold your flight, but now all your seats are filled and none of the passengers is even aware the flight had been oversold. That’s the scenario the airlines are hoping for when they oversell.

    Of course, sometimes you sell 505 tickets but 501 people show up and now somebody has to get kicked off. It’s a pain for everyone involved, but it’s still worth it to the airlines because of all the times that doesn’t happen, and the compensation still probably costs them less than flying with five empty seats would.

  4. James Pollock Nov 20th 2017 at 01:02 am 4

    The thing is, buying a ticket is only one of the ways you can get a seat on an airliner.

    Sometimes travellers miss connecting flights. This creates openings and places passengers on flights they didn’t originally plan on riding. Sometimes entire flights have to be cancelled, because of bad weather or mechanical problems, again placing a lot of passengers on flights they didn’t originally intend. The airlines may have to move flightcrews from one airport to another, on airplanes they aren’t operating.

    What you get over and over is airlines having to be flexible in assigning the available seats between potential passengers… whether or not people turn up to the airport at the right time on the right day is only one of a great many variables. They do the best they can to match up their available carrying capacity to their commitments… sometimes successfully, sometimes not. The “not” cases are very visible. The successful cases generally aren’t noticed. This gives the impression to outsiders that there are a lot of problems and no advantages.

  5. Brent Nov 20th 2017 at 01:16 am 5

    Yeah, non-refundable ticket just means that they’re more than happy to take your money and hope that you don’t show up. The fact that they still over sell when they have to compensate people they bounce just means that those hopes come true often enough to keep doing it.

  6. furrykef Nov 20th 2017 at 04:27 am 6

    You make it sound evil. The alternative to overselling might well be higher prices. Of course some people would gladly pay a few extra bucks if it meant they would never risk giving up a seat, but not everyone can afford that.

  7. narmitaj Nov 20th 2017 at 05:56 am 7

    It certainly used to be the case that you could buy a ticket for a route, but change your reservation multiple times with little or no penalty… especially for business-type seats at a certain price level, and especially, say between London and Frankfurt, where there might be several flights a day (and this might still be the case - I don’t do that kind of flying any more). If your meeting was running late, you would shift your reservation to a later flight. So an airline would have little idea who would be aiming to sit on any one particular flight, even a few hours in advance.

    With no-frills airlines like, in Europe, easyJet, Ryanair and Wizz, you buy a ticket and a fixed reservation at the same time… prices are so variable according to demand, time in advance of flight you bought and so on, and they are not supposed to be cheaply changeable. You can, for a change fee and the difference in fare (if the new ticket is now more costly), make a change. But a few times when I have had to do that it was simpler and cheaper just to not go on the first flight I booked and paid for, and simply bought another cheap ticket (or not go at all, if plans changed). Perhaps the airline successfully re-sold my first seat in advance by guessing someone would not show up, and if so, good luck to them… overall it must help keep general prices down.

  8. Kilby Nov 20th 2017 at 06:01 am 8

    Ever since I had a nightmare experience on an overbooked trans-Atlantic flight, I have always been among the first to volunteer to take an alternate flight. It’s much more pleasant that way. The last time this occurred, the coupon they offered practically paid for the next flight we took.

  9. Carl Nov 20th 2017 at 07:56 am 9

    furrykef has it: the answer is basically “Because it raises their net income and profitability.”

    Wendover Production has a great explanation:

  10. Ignatz Nov 20th 2017 at 09:37 am 10

    It shouldn’t be legal, as far as I’m concerned. Nobody else does it. You don’t show up to a Broadway show, concert, or baseball game to find that they sold your seat twice. And some people don’t show up for those, too. It dosn’t matter if they don’t show up - they still paid for the seat. It’s theirs.

  11. Powers Nov 20th 2017 at 10:04 am 11

    None of you have really explained the conundrum Bill raises, though — not even the video Carl posted. How does it reduce an airline’s profitability to fly with a seat empty /if that seat is already paid for/?

  12. Ron Nov 20th 2017 at 10:53 am 12

    An empty but paid-for seat reduces the airline’s profit
    because they could sell it again, and thus get double
    the fare for this seat.

  13. furrykef Nov 20th 2017 at 11:07 am 13

    I explained it, just perhaps not clearly enough: why sell 500 tickets when you can sell 505?

  14. Dave in Boston Nov 20th 2017 at 12:15 pm 14

    Ignatz: on a plane, you’re not paying for a seat that might head off to Omaha without you, you’re paying for transportation to Omaha, and while the distinction becomes finer every year, you will still generally appreciate the difference if you show up late or the flight has to be cancelled.

  15. Kilby Nov 20th 2017 at 12:34 pm 15

    @ Powers (11) - It reduces the potential profit when the airlines sacrifices the opportunity to sell tickets for the seats that they expect to go empty.

  16. Winter Wallaby Nov 20th 2017 at 12:39 pm 16

    Powers #11: I think lots of people have already explained it, but actually, I’d turn the initial question around. How it is even relevant whether the seat is “already paid for”? If the airline has (or is pretty confident it will have) an empty seat, it’s obviously more profitable if they sell that seat - it’s irrelevant whether someone has already paid for that seat.

    Suppose you sell your car to someone, and they give you the money for the car, saying they’ll be back to pick up the car later. A few days later, you get a letter from them, saying that they’ve just won the lottery, and don’t want or need your junky old car anymore, but that you can keep the money as compensation for your trouble, and that the car is 100% legally yours. (OK, this example is not realistic, but just go with it.) What would you do in that situation? Sell the car again? Or junk it, on the grounds that you’re already made the money from selling the car, so there’s no profit in selling it a second time?

  17. Scott Nov 20th 2017 at 01:35 pm 17

    My daughter worked for a budget airline which flew to some smaller destinations 3 times a week, and maybe once or twice on those days. They never overbook, because the pain of putting the bumped passengers on another flight was too great.
    Southwest often overbooks because they make changing tickets easy, and it is free to do so. A while back we accumulated lots of flight credits from volunteering. They are more efficient now and it doesn’t seem to happen so often.

    I fly standby on my daughter’s flight benefits, so am very sensitive to how many empty seats there are.

  18. Ted from Ft. Laud Nov 20th 2017 at 01:52 pm 18

    A lot of these comments are based on the assumption that the seat is already paid for, so the airline is trying to double dip. I have doubts that this is a major factor. People with non-refundable, non-changeable tickets (very heavily people doing personal traveling) very rarely walk away from those tickets. I’m pretty sure the main issue here is full fare (fully refundable, fully changeable) tickets, mostly bought by/for business travelers. Certainly back in the day when I traveled for a company, it was always on a full fare ticket. This was both because they usually arranged the trip at the last minute (even in cases where that wasn’t necessary) and often flexibility was needed. I’m guessing a large percentage of business travelers are in that category - and they are also probably the likeliest to have changes in their travel plans (meeting cancelled or delayed, location changed, etc.). The full fare (fully changeable/fully refundable) ticket means that while it is (much) more expensive than a discounted (non- or limited- change or refund) ticket, that (frequently needed?) flexibility is there. But any time the flexibility is used, a seat opens up - and they don’t get the revenue anyway, because that ticket will either be refunded or used at a later time with no additional payment. I don’t know what percentage of travelers are business travelers. but I assume the airlines do to a very accurate percentage, and similarly what percentage of changes they can expect (including from full fare non-business travelers) - and they have that data for each flight so they can project expected behavior on this particular flight and oversell according to that expectation. I would guess that changes on non-refundable tickets are far rarer (because of the costs) and don’t impact this much. Obviously, this is based on statistics, and any given flight can lie outside of the expectations, but the airlines are betting with the odds. The cases James mentions are exceptional (and usually cost the airlines a lot when they happen). Scott’s comment about budget airlines is relevant - they often offer only no refund, no change tickets, and probably have a low percentage of business travels because of it, so little or no overbooking, because few or no expected changes/no shows.

  19. James Pollock Nov 20th 2017 at 02:37 pm 19

    “It shouldn’t be legal, as far as I’m concerned. Nobody else does it.”

    Incorrect. Lots of other businesses do it.
    For instance, photography studios that do family/kids’ portraits overbook about 2:1, because often kids aren’t photogenic on schedule, so parents just don’t show. This means that the parents who DO show are confronted with a line of people waiting, even when they show up at their appointed time.

    Doctor’s offices are absolutely notorious for overbooking. The worst is for employment drug-screenings. You aren’t the customer, the employer is, so they have absolutely no incentive to provide for your happiness. You’re not going to just walk away, because the employer won’t look at that favorably, so it’s a cattle call, pure and simple.

    Overbooking represents the businesses’ hedge against no-shows or cancellations. If there’s a 10% overbook, this is a sign that the business is expecting a 10% no-show rate.

    As was pointed out above, if you have an empty seat, and someone who will pay for that seat ready to use it, leaving that seat empty is leaving money on the table, no matter what the reason that the seat is empty. This is true whether you’re talking about a seat on an airplane, or in a concert hall, or wherever. Now that airlines charge for onboard amenities, it’s a double loss, since an empty seat won’t order any $8 cocktails.

  20. Christine Nov 20th 2017 at 03:22 pm 20

    Scott makes an interesting point. Given that no-frills airlines tend to fly very full planes (they’re very sensitive to empty seats), if they don’t overbook it really supports Ted from Ft. Laud’s theory, that it’s the full-fare passengers who result in the empty seats. (I do know someone who bought, for the first time ever, nonrefundable tickets, because it was for his daughter’s wedding, and who would miss that? He then had a heart attack & couldn’t go. So you get cases like that, but they’re not nearly common enough to base overbooking around.)

  21. James Pollock Nov 20th 2017 at 04:04 pm 21

    Another factor, of course, is that the airline would prefer to sell full-fare tickets over discounted tickets. So they attach limitations to the discount tickets that make them untenable to most travellers (I flew recently on a “no carryons” ticket.)
    Those limitations include things like “most likely to be bumped due to overbooking”. If you don’t want to be bumped, buy a full-fare, first-class ticket. The airline will find someone else to bump. If you don’t mind being bumped, but the cheap ticket.

    One of the benefits of being in the service, back in the day, way being allowed to fly “space-a” on Air Force or Navy aircraft. The thing is, most such flights are NOT on passenger aircraft. The focus of the Military Airlift Command is on moving stuff, not people. When they DO move people, it tends to be more like freight.

  22. chakolate Nov 20th 2017 at 04:05 pm 22

    Ted from FtLaud’s comment at 18 jibes with what a counter clerk told me. He said that as the day goes on, the probability of no-shows grows, so that by 5 pm there are almost always available seats. Those would be business travelers, who probably paid full fare and who are apt to have meeting run long.

  23. B.A. Nov 20th 2017 at 04:40 pm 23

    James, there a difference between the doctor/photographer making you wait and the airline telling you you can’t get out of Dodge today at all.

  24. James Pollock Nov 20th 2017 at 06:07 pm 24

    “there a difference between the doctor/photographer making you wait and the airline telling you you can’t get out of Dodge today”

    What would that be? How sick the other people waiting around with you are?

  25. Christine Nov 20th 2017 at 06:57 pm 25

    James Pollock - Most of the people I know cancel (or skip) photography sittings if ill, and GPs tend to have shorter waits than most doctors. So your joke fell rather flat.

  26. Greybeard Nov 20th 2017 at 11:08 pm 26

    Good discussion. One more data point: the airlines have folks who track these things for a living. At one point 20+ years ago, a friend who worked for one of the airlines told me that there was a person PER FLIGHT tracking stuff. I imagine more of this is automated now, but the point is, they do it because it works.

    United’s app lets you track not only your flight, but the flight before it — in other words, to track the aircraft itself, including getting alerts about changes. This is obviously useful if the flight before is delayed or cancelled, or the one before that, etc. I typically track at least two or three flights back and sometimes the entire day. More than once I’ve seen a flight get delayed, then found that they’d changed which aircraft my flight was on. Which almost certainly means some other flight got cancelled, since it’s not like they have spare aircraft sitting around!

    (And yes, this is a failure of the app, since not only does it not automatically update you about that change, but since you’ve lost the “connection” to that earlier flight, you can’t even cancel the alerts easily, since you’ll have to hunt the flights down by hand. A few weeks ago my return got cancelled the night before; United rebooked me automatically, on a stupid routing. I changed that to a sane routing. I then spent the day getting updates on my original flight, the one they’d rebooked me on stupidly, and the one I was actually on.)

  27. Mark in Boston Nov 20th 2017 at 11:47 pm 27

    “What would that be? How sick the other people waiting around with you are?”

    If you get tired of waiting for the doctor appointment you can just go home.

    If you get tired of waiting for the photography appointment you can just go home.

    If you get tired of waiting for the next flight home you can just … wait and wish you could go home.

  28. James Pollock Nov 21st 2017 at 01:32 am 28

    “If you get tired of waiting for the doctor appointment you can just go home.

    If you get tired of waiting for the photography appointment you can just go home.

    If you get tired of waiting for the next flight home you can just…”

    If you get tired of waiting for the doctor, you can just go home.
    If you get tired of waiting for the photographer, you can just go home.
    If you get tired of waiting for the airline to get you out of Dodge, you can just go home.
    see? same.

    Oh, you want to keep that change you made where you had already flown somewhere else, and you were at the airport to fly home? OK:
    If you get tired of waiting for the doctor, you can just go somewhere else.
    If you get tired of waiting for the photographer, you can just go somewhere else.
    If you get tired of waiting for the airline to get you BACK INTO Dodge, you can just go somewhere else.

  29. James Pollock Nov 21st 2017 at 01:42 am 29

    “Most of the people I know cancel (or skip) photography sittings if ill, and GPs tend to have shorter waits than most doctors.”

    As to the first, your experience differs substantially from mine. So much so that one of the things I did when I became a single parent was to stop making appointments with the photography studio. As to the second, why is the type of doctor relevant to the question of whether or not their time is considered more valuable than yours is (by their staff)? They will all overbook to the extent needed to make sure they keep busy, unless (darn the luck) everybody’s too healthy.

  30. Cidu Bill Nov 21st 2017 at 01:51 am 30

    Just for the record, I was not bounced from my flight home: but they did make an announcement asking for volunteers.

    What surprised me was that all they were offering in compensation was a refund of your luggage fee — which seemed sort of meager.

  31. Cidu Bill Nov 21st 2017 at 01:58 am 31

    Also this weekend (I was at a family event on the West Coast), two of my cousins were told there was no room at the inn (Hilton Garden Inn, technically) even though they had confirmed reservations. You know, reservations that if they hadn’t shown up, their credit card would have been charged.

    Again, the hotel had overbooked even though they were already assured of payment.

    I can understand a hotel or airline turning away people who have unpaid reservations.

  32. James Pollock Nov 21st 2017 at 02:12 am 32

    “What surprised me was that all they were offering in compensation was a refund of your luggage fee — which seemed sort of meager.”

    Yeah, but if someone takes it, then they don’t have to offer the free flights to Hawaii.

    I was on a very full flight on a small airplane to LAX, and they offered to check carryons for free because they were afraid there wouldn’t be enough space in the carryon bins. On the connecting flight OUT of LAX (on a bigger airplane), they boarded people in boarding groups that weren’t based on where in the plane you were going to be seated, but based on what kind of ticket you had. By the time they got down to the cheap seats, they just flatly said “no more carryons for this flight… see the gate agent to check your carryon” and no hint of the “free of charge” language they used for the earlier flight.

    They play a video as people are still boarding. It shows you how to load your carryon into the overhead bins, and explains the airline’s policies on being bumped. When they ask for volunteers, it’s a reverse auction… they’ll keep raising the offered reward for getting off until someone accepts. If nobody accepts then they pick someone at “random” and off they go, with no reward.

  33. Cidu Bill Nov 21st 2017 at 02:27 am 33

    Oh, I thought this made perfect sense, especially since there was some time remaining before boarding: start by offering free peanuts, and work your way up to Hamilton tickets.

  34. James Pollock Nov 21st 2017 at 02:49 am 34

    All this airline talk reminded me of a story.

    Once upon a time, I lived in Oregon and my ex-wife moved to Hawaii. Why do I care, none of my business, except… we still had a minor child between us who was entitled to visitation time with her mother. So, we got to play the travel game. Some airlines will fly some minor children on a regular ticket, but for younger ones, they charge an extra “unaccompanied minor” fee, following which the airline takes responsibility for the child from endpoint to endpoint of the child’s travels, including making sure the child changes planes correctly when needed, which is important for trips with no direct flights available.
    My daughter made some “UM” flights to Hawaii and back home again. Most flights to Hawaii consist of a flight from the mainland to Honolulu, and then from there to the actual destination island, if it wasn’t Oahu.
    OK, so, when my ex-wife paid the UM fare, the airline made sure that in Honolulu, my daughter got put on the right plane to complete her trip.
    There came a time when my ex decided that instead of putting our daughter on a plane in Hilo, and letting the airline put her on the plane home, she’d take the island hopper with my daughter, and put her on the plane to Portland in Honolulu. It was probably cheaper that way, even with the island hopper flight both ways for her.
    Or, it WOULD have been, but they didn’t leave enough time to get through security at Honolulu, and the plane came home without my daughter on it. My ex-wife and daughter are on Oahu, which is not the island she lives on, and only one of them has a ticket to go back to Hilo. Plus, of course, anticipating a day trip, she hadn’t taken a credit-card with her. The airline will be happy to rebook a flight for my daughter, but, of course, only after the change fee is applied. Would you like to pay that with cash or credit card?
    Panic ensued.
    By the time I got involved, there were no seats available on the next day’s flights, the best they could do was to rebook two days out (after I paid the change fee). Of all the wonderful things to do and see on the island of Oahu, my daughter did precisely none of them. She spent two days watching cable TV in an airport hotel, waiting for the chance to get home.

    That wasn’t even the worst travel experience she had. My ex decided that Hawaii wasn’t really the place she wanted to live, and moved to West Virginia. By then, my daughter, though still a minor, was old enough to travel on her own, which my ex preferred because it was way cheaper. Now, no disrespect intended to West Virginians, but you don’t have an airport in your state that is big enough to have direct flights to and from Oregon, so they booked my daughter to fly into Charlotte, instead, and planned to drive across two states to pick her up. Which might have worked, except… on the day in question, a massive ice storm swept across North Carolina, closing the highways but not the airport. There were massive schedule disruptions, but still some flight operations, including landing the flight from Oregon. This gave us a situation in which our daughter was in a state which contained neither one of her parents. She had to wait in the airport with a lot of other stranded travellers, until the weather allowed NCDOT to re-open the highways. I wasn’t worried. Not because I had confidence in my daughter (although I DO have a considerable degree of confidence in my daughter). I wasn’t worried because she didn’t bother to tell me about it until she came home, a month later. That’s how seasoned a traveller she was by that age. Stranded, and the person who’s supposed to meet me at the baggage claim is actually in a different state? No big deal… call me when you get here.

  35. Meryl A Nov 21st 2017 at 02:59 am 35

    We don’t fly (or take buses or trains as husband suffers from motion sickness - he drives, or we don’t go). However, I have certainly read in the news about problems with airlines having people forcibly removed from planes when they need to bump them and they won’t leave, as well as having read about non-refundable tickets - in one case I read, the person was at the airport on time, with their ticket and there was a problem and they were told that purchasing a ticket does not guarantee a seat on any plane (not any particular plane - ANY plane), which to me sounds more than a bit shady.

    Having said that, I have flown 4 times (to and from Dallas and to and from Mexico) in my life, back in the early 1970s when I was in college. My first flight was to Dallas (Love Field) when I was the incoming editor-in-chief of my college yearbook. I was traveling to where the yearbooks were published with the fellow who would be my business manager of the yearbook to edit the year book before mine and were to be meet up in Dallas with the former eic and managing editor who were traveling on a later flight. We were traveling student standby and would be met in Dallas by our yearbook rep. We kept getting bumped from flights. We presumed this was because the flights were full and we were standby. Our luggage did get to go on the original flight. We spent most of the day at LaGuardia airport.

    This is long before cell phones and we could not contact our yearbook rep to tell him what was going on. We telephoned the yearbook company and left messages for him. When the other two met up with us, we all managed to get seats on the same plane. On our arrival in Dallas we found out that the rep’s solution was to meet every flight from LaGuardia of the airline we were on. He was surprised to find out that we had been bumped as most of the earlier flights had been far from full - but there seemed to be big press crowds meeting some of the flights. The only thing we could think of was that “SOMEONE” had been flying and they did not want students on the flight with whoever it was. So, those planes flew with unpaid for, empty seats.

  36. Meryl A Nov 21st 2017 at 03:04 am 36

    James Pollack - I don’t even drive to my local synagogue or walk 4 blocks back from the service station after leaving the car without a credit card - actually quite a few of them. I certainly would not have flown anywhere without one with me.

    Glad it all worked out in the end and that your daughter became such a comfortable traveler.

  37. narmitaj Nov 21st 2017 at 10:42 am 37

    With Cidu Bill’s cousins’ hotel problem, it might be your cousins had booked for one night, for example, and then the hotel got a booking for three nights from someone else, including that one night, so bumped them for the extra dosh. Doesn’t sound ethical but I know this happens/has happened in at least one small B&B-type hotel in York, a couple of doors down from where my niece lives. When the bumped person shows up, they apparently say there’s been a flood in the room. But as you say, in the case of a no-show no doubt they would also bill the singletonite even if there was in fact no space.

  38. James Pollock Nov 21st 2017 at 10:53 am 38

    Reservations are only useful to the extent that the establishment intends to honor it.

    Earlier this year, a number of lodging providers suddenly realized that they were inside the path of totality of a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event. They could charge HUGE premiums over their usual rate for the days just before the event. But alas! They’d taken reservations long in advance, at normal prices. So they just dropped all reservations for the relevant period, and didn’t even offer the people who’d had those reservations first opportunity to rebook at the higher prices. So people who’d planned, sometimes years in advance, for the event found themselves suddenly without reservations.

  39. B.A. Nov 21st 2017 at 12:54 pm 39

    As to why “what sort of doctor” would be relevant: a GP is more likely to be seeing patients who can just as easily be seen later on. Check-ups and the like.

  40. Cidu Bill Nov 21st 2017 at 02:27 pm 40

    narmitaj, it was a two-night reservation. What’s worse, it was part of a block of rooms specifically set aside for people coming to this event. For which rooms had to be reserved well in advance, no less.

    You’d think the hotel would be extra careful, since word gets around: “We need to get 30 rooms for relatives coming to Rachel’s bat mitzvah in April. Any suggestions?” “Well, the Hilton lost our cousins’ reservations when they were here for Jacob’s bar mitzvah…”

  41. Brian in STL Nov 21st 2017 at 03:42 pm 41

    As far as empty seats, don’t they still have standbys?

  42. James Pollock Nov 21st 2017 at 05:23 pm 42

    “don’t they still have standbys?”

    Yes. Standbys are one form of overbooking, and the second-to-last priority, beating out only space-a travellers. (Standbys don’t pay unless they travel, and space-a passengers don’t pay at all, even if they do.)

  43. Christine Nov 21st 2017 at 05:24 pm 43

    B.A. - the reason I mentioned the kind of doctor is actually that many doctors see people who aren’t ill, or at least not contagious. The worst in-office wait times I know are from local OBs (to the point where *that* was the reason that my friend didn’t want to have an OB for her second pregnancy). They can’t be put off, but you’re not sick. (Although given that it’s often an OB-GYN, yes, you might be ailing, but you’re sill not contagious.)

    Back on the original question - this was quite timely. I just discovered that the discount airline won’t sell us a seat for a 17-month-old. Same question, of course: why do they care who sits there, as long as they pay the fare. But they are better off if more people travel (more odds that someone will screw up & buy a drink on board or something). And I suspect that we’d be paying a fee for having an infant, so they’d rather we pay 10% of a fare for no seat than 100% of a fare and prevent the seat from being sold to someone else. (Joke’s on them! We’ll probably fly with someone else. Although maybe that’s what they want, in case we owned a stroller that they would have had to check for free?)

  44. Winter Wallaby Nov 21st 2017 at 06:52 pm 44

    Christine #43: That seems strange to me, I also would think they’d be happy to sell tickets to anyone. (The infant fee is pretty nominal, I wouldn’t think that would be much of a factor.) And if you’re obese enough, airlines will often make you buy two adjacent seats, so you’d think you would also be allowed to even if you weren’t obese.

    Years ago I knew someone who was transporting an incredibly expensive piece of equipment, so he purchased two seats just so the equipment could have a seat of it’s own.

  45. Christine Nov 21st 2017 at 10:23 pm 45

    Winter Wallaby - I completely agree. Of course, given that they’re almost certain to sell all the seats in the flight anyhow, it’s not a huge deal to them. It’s entirely possible that this airline doesn’t let you buy another seat. Either you get just one, or you fly with someone else. I really don’t know.

  46. Kilby Nov 22nd 2017 at 01:37 am 46

    @ Christine (43) - The reason that many airlines (not just the discounters) will not sell seats for infants (defined as “< 2 years”) is that the baby is not allowed to use a seat alone for takeoff or for landing. Mosty baby seats designed for cars are not safe for airline seats, so when travelling with an infant, the baby has to ride in a parent’s lap at the beginning and end of the flight. This may seem strange, since this is an extremely bad idea when driving, but the baby does not use the parent’s seat belt. Instead, the parent buckles down normally, and a second belt is looped around the baby and the parent’s belt. This is supposed to be the safest method.

    Once airborn, the baby can be placed in a bassinet that can be attached to one of the intermediate bulkheads, many carriers are nice enough to place (or move) parents with infants into the seats directly behind these section dividers.

    P.S. For small children (over two), you can use a car seat in the plane, but only if it has a stiff shell that is designed to be used with a “two-point” seat belt. Most car seats require a standard “three-point” belt.

  47. Mark in Boston Nov 22nd 2017 at 01:46 am 47

    “If you get tired of waiting for the airline to get you BACK INTO Dodge, you can just go somewhere else.”

    Did you ever get back home, or did you give up and buy a house somewhere else?

  48. Olivier Nov 22nd 2017 at 06:09 am 48

    MiB@47 : almost happened to me once in 2003. The plane from Paris to Amsterdam was cancelled so I missed my connection to San Francisco. Amsterdam was a mess, long lines everywhere and I was put on the last plane across the Atlantic that day and landed in Saint Paul. Before opening the gate to board the plane to San Francisco, we were told that it was overbooked but I declined the offer to stay in Saint Paul.
    I arrived in San Francisco at midnight (instead of noon) so no Bart, I had to spend $120 on a cab (and guide him :”take the Bay bridge, take the Caldecott tunnel, don’t take the first exit, take the second…”.
    My suitcase was delivered 3 days later (”found under a conveyor belt at the airport” said the sticker on it).

  49. James Pollock Nov 22nd 2017 at 06:36 am 49

    “Did you ever get back home, or did you give up and buy a house somewhere else?”

    Well, since you asked, I sold the “empty nest” and I’m currently considering relocating 3 time zones different. I haven’t yet tried to fly “home”.

  50. Christine Nov 22nd 2017 at 08:53 am 50

    Kilby - must be a conflict with EU regulations then. As bad as Transport Canada regulations are (You aren’t allowed to use standard belt adaptors), they allow standard five-point harness car seats to be used. (Front-facing only, and they don’t install entirely properly, as the airline doesn’t have the top anchor, but putting the belt through the LATCH routing works decently, and better than the “parents’ arms” solution that is legally allowed otherwise.) Unfortunately there’s no way that the discount airline would move us around, and I doubt that they provide bassinettes (not that they would do any good for us even if they did). But it hadn’t occured to me - if we buy the kid a ticket the airline will have to check less luggage (even though the car seat is coming anyhow). I suspect that the hold space for child equipment would be less of an issue than the weight of the car seat.

    I hadn’t heard anything about getting a second belt - is this something that the parents are expected to bring? Because the story about “Why aren’t we allowed to use the belt adaptors?” was talking about how impossible it is to hold the baby safely. (For the record, I completely understand why you are not allowed to use child carriers during take off and landing, and think it makes sense, although I think someone needs to develop one that can be easily released by anyone, and get it approved for air travel.)

  51. Olivier Nov 22nd 2017 at 09:10 am 51

    Christine : the airline company provide them ; here’s a picture http://us01.i.aliimg.com/img/pb/955/101/915/915101955_445.jpg
    I’ve seen them used by my sister first for my nephew and then for my niece.

  52. James Pollock Nov 22nd 2017 at 09:55 am 52

    ” I think someone needs to develop one that can be easily released by anyone”

    My offspring unit learned how to release the seatbelt holding her into her infant car seat, and it was a massive effort to convince her not to do so while the vehicle was in motion. By the time she moved to a toddler seat, she could open the infant seat with her feet.

  53. Christine Nov 22nd 2017 at 05:56 pm 53

    James Pollock: pronoun confusion. The “one”refers to child carriers - hence my comment on it opening their use up.

  54. Brian in STL Nov 25th 2017 at 02:15 pm 54

    So if there are standbys, what is all this about bumping passengers and paying people not to fly? I guess you can tell I don’t fly often. I don’t care for travel much and I particularly don’t like airplanes. I’m not afraid of them, I just don’t like being cooped up with strangers. And these days longer flights cause my back to hurt. On a St. Louis to Seattle flight, I spent a fair amount of time standing in the alcove by the restrooms because I didn’t want to sit.

  55. James Pollock Nov 25th 2017 at 07:15 pm 55

    “So if there are standbys, what is all this about bumping passengers and paying people not to fly?”

    Standbys are very rare. The airline usually gets them because an airplane did not leave the airport, and people are trying to get out at literally the last moment.

    So, if the plane you wanted to leave on at 12:00 doesn’t go because the engine fell off in the maintenance shed, the airline will try to put you on a different airplane. If they don’t have one, they’ll even try to put you on an airplane operated by a different airline. If all the seats have been sold, however, they’ll still try to get you on that plane… that’s what a standby is… but the people who have reservations for the plane that’s actually leaving have priority over the people who are suddenly changing which airplane they want to be on (even though the change is through no fault of their own.)
    Maybe someone who has a reservation will be unable to use it… say the plane they’re on is late arriving, so they can’t leave as scheduled on another one, thus opening up a seat. That seat would go to the standby. If everyone shows up, the standby gets no seat and tries again for the next one.

  56. Meryl A Nov 29th 2017 at 02:39 am 56

    Kilby - strangely I remember reading that putting the baby/child in a separate seat was the safer thing to do - as the parent (or anyone else for that matter) would not be able to hold onto the child in a crash and the child would go flying. I even remembering reading an article about a case where the family was told that they had to hold the child and them filing a complaint and going to the news about what they had been told when it was not true and they were entitled to buy - and it was safer for them to buy - a seat for the small child and their car seat. It seems to me that this was in the past 3 or so years, but could have been further back.

    I can believe that parents would not be able to hang onto their child in an emergency due to having not been able to hold onto my cell phone - which ended up on the driver’s side of the dashboard - and not being able to find the eyeglasses that flew off my face in a car crash (husband was driving and I had the cell phone out as I planned to call my mom while we were riding as that way I can say “Mom,we’re at the restaurant, I have to hang up now.”) I can attest to how hard it is to hold onto something even that small in a crash. The eyeglasses were found the next day when we went to clear out the car at the auto repair place - the rear arm rest had opened in the crash, the eyeglasses flew off my head and over it into the the open arm rest,which then closed about 80% with the glasses in it.)

  57. Meryl A Nov 29th 2017 at 02:55 am 57

    Reading about the hotel room reservations reminds me -

    Back when we traveled by car and stayed in hotels like normal people, we had two or three incidents in which the non-smoking room we had reserved was not available and would not be until the next day. The Hilton this happened at (outside DC) not only did not have the non-smoking room, they gave us a used smoking room and then a really heavily smoked in smoking room. We stayed at a hotel in Crystal City, VA outside of DC that had two towers. They did not have our no smoking room, but at least the room they gave us did not reek of smoke. The next day we had to switch rooms - and the room was in the other tower.

    So even when a room is available, it may not be the one requested.

    The RV park we use in Lancaster PA switched owner and among the many changes we don’t like, they no longer guarantee one will get the space one reserved. That might not sound too bad, but we rebook the same spaces as we know we can find a level spot in them - or they are near the bathhouse when we traveling off season and have no running water.

  58. Kilby Nov 29th 2017 at 04:20 am 58

    @ Meryl A - The “loop seatbelt” rule applies only to airplanes, and only for kids under the age of two. Trying to hold onto the baby without the extra loop belt would be insane. Older kids can (and should) get a seat of their own, and can (or should) use an appropriately engineered booster seat if needed.

  59. Meryl A Dec 6th 2017 at 03:06 am 59

    Kilby- Thank you.

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