Update Airline Overbooking Policies to Better Protect Consumers

Update Airline Overbooking Policies to Better Protect Consumers

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Petition to
Chair of Aviation, Operations, and Innovation Subcommittee Senator Kyrsten Sinema and

Why this petition matters

Started by Melissa Hartwick

Please sign this petition and reach out directly to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and our Senators affiliated with the Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation Subcommittee to fight for consumer rights as they apply to airline overbooking policies!  Current legislation is completely weighted to support the economics of the businesses over average consumers, but we can push to have these policies updated to reduce the impact on individuals and, I believe, also benefit the customer service of the airlines themselves.

Airlines routinely use the practice of overbooking ("When a seat cannot be provided due to an inadequate number of seats for the number of passengers holding confirmed reservations") to counterbalance economic losses when passengers do not show up for flights.  This practice is, in fact, quite legal according to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR Title 14/Ch II/Subchapter A/Part 250.9).  While there are also definitions with how these airlines are responsible for accommodating and compensating "selected" passengers (either on a voluntary or involuntary manner), efforts to compensate said displaced individuals fall well short of what they should be, particularly as the scenarios result from the initial poor planning of the airlines themselves!  

In February 2022 my family learned how unfair and abused the practice of overbooking flights is by airlines.  In our case I will (with full supporting documentation!) call out Frontier Airlines, but they are by no means the sole abusers of this practice.  The experience was truly horrible and cost my family a lot of peripheral expenses including financial/time/mental losses.  To date we have received some mandated financial reimbursement, but will never be fully compensated for the paid hotel room we could not sleep in or the loss of time on our much anticipated vacation which was postponed for over 2 years due to COVID.  Frontier's solution was to get us to our destination about 72 hours later (the entire trip was a week long).  

We learned that our frustration and anger had been shared by many others, and had apparently been happening routinely for days.  Ultimately, our flight was overbooked by 11 seats, and by 5 on the way home.  This experience also brought to our attention the fact that the overbooking policies subject airport employees to the fallout of all the justifiably irate passengers who learn last minute about their uncontrolled change of plans. Unfortunately these workers are not empowered to help create satisfactory resolutions making their jobs pretty challenging and, I suspect, emotionally exhausting.  My first interaction on our trip was being told (very rudely) we were on standby when we checked in our bags.  For the record we had checked in the day before, had boarding passes (note my boarding pass in the image above) with seats which matched our seat selection from our purchase ticket, and arrived punctually only to learn that we were now magically on standby (the other 4 family members on the same ticket were still ok).  When trying to show our boarding passes we were told, "I don't care WHAT your phone says".  I challenge anyone reading not to get angry if this happened to you.  

In the end this is a problem which is manageable, if not avoidable.  Our missed flight was not due to punctuality for a check in time.  Nor was it the result of uncontrollable factors including weather, COVID staffing shortages or technical/mechanical problems with a plane.  This was and is an intentional practice to line big business pockets to the fullest, and it’s legal.  

Gone are the days of travel agents in small offices purchasing paper tickets and then taking a few days to sort out the details in the exchange.   In an age where the industry is linked with computers, it seems that there should be a better way to itemize and track sales. I still cannot comprehend how it is legal to sell a service that you cannot or do not plan to provide.  Any average consumer would be held legally accountable if we did the same.

Please sign this petition to change CFR Title 14/Ch II/Subchapter A/Part 250.9 to mandate ALL airlines to LABEL A TICKET SPECIFICALLY AS A STANDBY if determined to be one.  In the end, if an airline has 10 to sell, then sell 10;  Beyond that label #11 as Standby 1; #12 Standby 2; etc.  If it is determined within a day or so of the purchase that the flight indeed has been oversold, the consumer should at least have the opportunity to accept this as a potential outcome, or make another arrangement.

I am not immune to the fact that this will be an annoying adjustment by airlines initially, but this transparency for the most part should minimize the need for reimbursements and compensation to be spent by airlines (any students need a topic for applied consumer economics?), fill the planes to capacity to minimize airline economic losses and equally respect the personal economics and time of consumers fairly while avoiding the creation of needless anger.

Please help me pursue this change by signing and sharing this petition, as well as sharing your personal stories as they apply to overbooking specifically to help reinforce the economic impacts of individuals!  The current policies are unfair, at best exercised (I daresay) unethically, and the airlines are making lots of money in the meantime.  My true hope is to avoid future travelers from having this terrible experience, while also improving the quality of customer care in an industry which we all rely on so much to help us.

 Thank you for your time and attention.

878 have signed. Let’s get to 1,000!