An unfortunate fact of flying is that many airlines overbook their flights. This often leads to awkward moments at the airport gate, with the check in agent asking for people to forego their flight for something later. Often, there is some compensation attached to this – sometimes upwards of $1,000 to fly a day later.
The issue is that people travel for mainly two reasons – work, or leisure. If you are traveling for work, you are generally on a tight schedule, if you are traveling for leisure, you want to optimize your vacation time and it is hard to justify trading vacation time for money (though most of us do it on a daily basis – funny how that works).
So – before we discuss avoiding this scenario in Canada, it is important to understand why airlines sometimes overbook flights.
- Profits – Airlines forecast for x% of flight cancellations or changes. When overselling a flight, they are working on forecasts that, by fly day, a number of the bookings for said flight would have been canceled or changed. Overselling ensures a full flight, even accounting for anyone that cancels or changes their flight to help ensure each flight segment has good load utilization and is profitable.
- Logistics – In the case of United Airlines this past week, the primary reason that the flight was oversold was a last minute staffing logistical issue in that United needed staff to be transported from a hub airport in Chicago to a smaller spoke airport in Louisville in order to get another aircraft off of the ground.
Now that you have a bit of background and context as to why airlines sometimes do overbook their flight segments, how can you avoid this in Canada?
#1 – Fly WestJet
The easiest way to ensure you aren’t overbooked in Canada is to fly with WestJet. Unlike Air Canada, WestJet has a policy that they will not overbook their flights.
Unfortunately, if you travel internationally or more than 5 times per year – you’ll likely be wanting to book with Air Canada for its far superior loyalty program (if nothing else).
#2 – Don’t Delay Check-in
A flying habit that I have had for a while now, is checking in for my flight immediately when the option becomes available. If I have a flight departing at 5:00 am, I will set my alarm for 5:00 am 24 hours in advance to ensure I check in right away for free seat selection. Once you are checked in and have a seat selected, Air Canada seem to be much more reluctant to take your seat away or put you on Stand By (or “See Gate Agent”).
Sidebar: If you are flying internationally, seat selection should be free so you don’t have to wait until check-in. Airlines also tend to not want to bump people from connecting flights if possible and would prefer to bump a one leg flight as it is easier to rebook.
#3 – Pay for Seat Selection
Alternatively, if you are flying a Tango (Base) fare on Air Canada domestically and you want to play it more cautious before check-in is even open, you could always pay the $15-$20 to pre-select your seat. Again, the idea here being that Air Canada, in particular, seems to not like taking seats away from people.
Aside from these three tips, there are a couple of more obvious ones. If you are booked in a higher booking class – such as Flex, Latitude, or Business, your chances of being bumped drop significantly. Likewise, if you are signed up for Aeroplan (Air Canada’s loyalty program), and your account number is attached to your booking – this may also help your cause, especially if you have altitude status.
Hopefully, these few quick tips will save you from a miserable drive from the airport at some point down the road.