Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Global travel and weather

The recent snowstorm had the anticipated fallout: disruption in travel and flights. Residents of northern hemisphere, especially northern United States and Canada take a few snowstorms during winters as a given but I guess London is not as prepared. NYT summarized it thus “London, a city known for its low tolerance for snow, was buffeted by an unusually thick snowfall on Wednesday, the heaviest in more than 20 years.

While inclement weather disrupting travel is a way of life, it can have a ripple effect on air travel, thanks in part to the practice of overbooking by airlines. What’s overbooking? Check out the interesting article (10th June 2008 - "Sorry Miss - Your Flight is Overbooked") A few months ago, I was traveling from Chicago to Houston on a Saturday and the flight had been overbooked. When the ground crew called for volunteers, I went ahead to the counter: the offer was sweet: a travel voucher for $400 and rerouting to a flight that would arrive 3 hours later and a few food-vouchers.

However, such an offer may not be ‘sweet’ for those who have a prior appointment or would be traveling with the family. For example, a friend of mine traveling from London to Bangalore three days after this week’s snowstorm was at a similar receiving end. He was traveling with his wife and one-year-old baby. The friend and his family were forcibly offloaded and rebooked on a flight three days hence. The reason given was that British Airways was recouping with the backlog due to delay and cancellation of dozens of flights a few days ago. For my friend, the compensation and offer for rebooking was a bummer since the vacation plan with his family was in disarray.

With the global economic outlook thawing, the airlines are looking for a rebound in international travel. I guess overbooking, rebooking and being bumped off flights is going to continue to be a reality.