Travel Agents Lobby to Force Airlines to Declare Overbooking When Tickets Are Ordered

An organization of travel agents who specialize in business travel is currently lobbying for legislation that would force airlines to inform consumers whether their requested flight is overbooked at the moment they make a reservation.

Many airlines have an open policy of overbooking. However, there is no set percentage or number of overbooked seats per flight, and airlines are not obligated to inform passengers in advance of whether the ticket they are purchasing is for an overbooked flight.

The companies claim that they try to solve overbooking problems by offering passengers on overbooked flights a later flight plus monetary compensation.

However, a source from the Forum of Business Travel Agents claimed that "because currently, a passenger's right to compensation is conditional on his being bumped from the flight due to overbooking, many airlines resort to other methods in order to remove passengers from flights without providing compensation." One of these methods is contacting the customer and claiming that the company cannot locate his electronic ticket. The ticket, the source said, is only "located" after takeoff, and the passenger is moved to a later flight.

The source also described another method, used by airlines that handle their own security - the "unidentified suitcase" method: "The passenger is detained by claiming that his baggage is unidentified. The process of identifying the baggage is started only after the flight has taken off. Who will dare argue with the security officer?"

Avi Friedman, chairman of the Foreign Airlines Association in Israel and CEO of Continental Airlines' local office, applauded the initiative. But he conditioned his support on requiring travel agents to also inform airlines of how many flights they have booked the same passenger on. "The problem of overbooking is created by agents who book their customers on several flights at the same time in order to secure their requested traveling date, only to later cancel the booking for flights they do not wish to take," he argued.

Friedman rejected the claims described above about the methods airlines use in order to avoid paying compensation or to remove passengers from a flight without paying compensation. "I am not familiar with such a thing," he said. "It is possible to have a situation in which a reservation is made and the ticket is issued with an error in the name, such as replacing an F with a P, and this causes problems in locating the passenger. The 'unidentified baggage' method is new to me. But this claim is illogical, since the passenger checks in his baggage and receives a boarding pass."