“Airlines should be allowed to overbook”: IATA

Hannah Edensor

In the wake of the drama involving a United passenger being dragged off an overbooked flight, IATA has weighed in on the debate, claiming airlines should be allowed to continue “long-established overbooking practices”.

Director General and CEO of IATA, Alexandre de Juniac, has also weighed in on the debate, attempting to distance United’s shady actions and poor apologies from the overall aviation industry.

In a paper from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), it stated its position on overbooking policies, they discussed governments considering regulations that would restrict the current practice.

“The airline business is unique in that once a flight takes off, the seats on that flight are no longer available for sale; it’s a time-sensitive, perishable product,” the paper said.

“Through sophisticated revenue management systems that airlines deploy, they know the historical percentage of no-show passengers for any given route.

“As a result, airlines can, with a degree of certainty, overbook a flight considering the number of no-shows expected, thereby maximizing the capacity available to customers.”

Protecting passengers in the case of denied boarding

According to 2016 stats, just 0.09 per cent of passengers in the US were denied boarding as a result of an overbooked flight.

“Where flights are overbooked, IATA supports, in the first instance, a call for volunteers in exchange for an agreed-upon offer the airlines extend to customers,” the paper stated.

But if not enough volunteers come forward, IATA said it “recognises the right to re-routing, assistance and proportionate compensation to those passengers involuntarily denied boarding”.

Director General and CEO of IATA, Alexandre de Juniac, shared his own thoughts on the United scandal and airline overbooking policies in an IATA blog.

“Everybody who watched the video of a passenger being dragged off UA flight 3411 earlier this week was shocked. That includes me,” de Juniac penned.

“Whatever the reason, what happened was clearly unacceptable. And United has recognized that.”

And while he said it’s not his job to judge or apologise for the situation, it is his duty to “defend the reputation” of the aviation industry.

“Each day some 10 million passengers board planes. And 100,000 flights will take them safely to wherever they are going, almost always without incident,” de Juniac said.

“That is no less than a modern day marvel of technology, coordination and dedication to safety.

“Aviation is also a challenging business. Every take-off and landing involves complex coordination among many different people. Bad weather, overcrowded infrastructure, strikes, natural disasters, and public health issues are among the long list of events on one side of the world that can lead to disruptions a continent away.

“Absolute dedication to safety could see a last minute change of aircraft or a flight delay to fix the problem.

And the 63 million people employed in making travel possible are human. Sometimes they make mistakes. In a service business amends need to be made swiftly and with the human touch.

“There can be no justification for what we saw on that video. But the response must be more thoughtful than headlines painting an entire industry with the hue of a single and very regrettable incident.

“Many political and opinion leaders have weighed in on a discussion that has gone global with amazing speed. Questions have been raised about passenger rights, procedures for denying boarding to passengers, the actions of local law enforcement, and overbooking practices.

We will learn lessons from this too. But at the risk of sounding old-fashioned, the best results will not come out of angry, knee-jerk responses that seek resolution in 140 characters, or a newspaper comment piece written before the entire incident has revealed itself.

“Where do we go from here? United has pledged to take immediate concrete action to ensure this never happens again and announced a thorough review of its relevant policies and actions addressing oversold situations and incentivizing volunteers, with a report by 30 April.

“But, if there is something in this incident that requires changes at an industry level the next step is a robust dialogue. To relieve any cynics out there, that’s not a stall tactic. Rather, it is a proven process to produce the best result.

“Airlines and governments both want passengers to reach their destination safely, efficiently and without incident. That’s our common goal—and a proven platform to make flying even better.”