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.


  1. Thanks for the article.. I never knew overbooking reduced cost. I always thought of it as another shrewd profit maximizing technique....
    And overbooking in the Indian context is not so sweet. Recently I met a man who couldn't board and was given no compensation at all. He had to struggle his way through the general compartment of a train to reach his destination.
    And in election times, its just the norm I suppose with all the important people choosing to fly at the last minute.
    Its time our aviation Industry set up policies in this regard. Maybe our ailing Maharaja could show the way...
    And snow continues to spoil sport all across..No alternative to that I suppose :)

  2. Issam,
    The practice of overbooking is a global practice though in the west, passenger's bill of rights and other checks-and-balances are much more mature. Accountability is driven towards the paying consumer. I have some personal experiences with airlines from India that I will narrate in a future blog.