GET OUT!!!(The Business of Probability)


A major airline has been making news lately but unfortunately not for the right reasons, we expect it to have been hitting the news feeds with milestones reached and excellent services provided but it’s just bad news. A video of a passenger being dragged off a plane violently has been circulating on social media and has received fierce criticism and even caused the stock of the airline to plummet. It was quite a disturbing scene, a man who had bought his ticket now being dragged out of the plane, that’s just not right. United Airlines Flight UA 3411 which was scheduled to take off from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago to Louisville Kentucky had been “overbooked and four passengers were to give up their seats for the flight to take off as per regulations. It was found out later on that it wasn’t an actual overbooking, the airline wanted to accommodate four staff members which had to be repositioned for shifts.

But what’s all this bumping?

Overbooking is a common practice within the airlines industry. The airline sells more tickets than the actual number of seats available. This is done for quite a number of reasons but, why?


Ever wonder why sometimes you are able to get a seat on a flight that is taking off in an hour or less? Well, it turns out that not everyone who books a flight will show up so, airlines having realised that decided to “always” overbook and sometimes “oversell” tickets to allow themselves to make a profit. In an industry where you make an average profit of $6 per passenger with a 2.4% average profit margin they had to devise ways to combat huge losses and maximise profits. Generally first class seats are not overbooked as airlines are not willing to upset their premium customers, the struggle is with the economy class passengers.How much they overbook is not standard but there used to be a flat figure for overbookings until they decided to base it on a “No-Show” rate. No-Show rates are different for each flight as they are based on the statistics of the flight route, how much people are likely to fail showing up.

OVERBOOKING is practiced so as to maximise profit and optimise resources.

But they just don’t bump passengers for free, a price has to be paid for inconveniencing people because the airline knows how many passengers can be accommodated on the scheduled flight so there are fines they have to pay for overbooking. In Europe EU reg 261/2004 was put in place to define the guidelines of how passengers are to be protected when they get bumped off since it happens so often. When they bump passengers off they incur losses which is bad for the airline but the likelihood of the situation happening is the most important such that even though they know they can make a loss they are willing to make the bet. A BUSINESS OF PROBABILITY INDEED.

When a flight is overbooked and some passengers have to be removed, sometimes the passengers are asked to willingly give up their seats and be compensated, if that doesn’t work as in UA 3411 scenario a computer is used to randomly pick passengers to bump off however normally the process of removing passengers off a flight is done at the boarding gate.

Normally the process of removing passengers off a flight is done at the boarding gate

In case you get bumped off while aboard remember not to harass the crewmembers as there are regulations that could end up putting on the wrong side of the law. Due to the increase in the number of bumpings it has become a lucrative business activity for some “overbooking-hunters,” these are people who go about hunting for overbookings so that they can enjoy the benefits of being bumped off.

So how many people get bumped off?

In the US alone, 40,629 passengers were bumped off in 2016 and considered a decline from the 43 704 passengers in 2015.

India saw 12,957 passengers on domestic Indian flights denied boarding between August 2016 and February 2017.

In the UK it is estimated that in 2015 about 50 000 passengers were bumped off.

However there have been cases where some flights flew with an excess of passengers as happened in February with Pakistan International Airlines PK743 which flew with 7 passengers standing in the aisle from Jeddah to Karachi. Such practices are indeed a disregard for the safety precautions associated with the aviation industry and do endanger the life of many.


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