PHOTO: Remember, you might have purchased that seat but in reality, you’re only renting it. (Photo via Flickr/Ronald Sarayudej)
What is the process for being randomly chosen to be kicked off a flight?
When United Airlines rebooked Dr. David Dao from its Chicago to Louisville flight on Sunday night, eventually leading to a forcible and violent removal from the airplane, the carrier initially said it did so randomly through a computer-generated algorithm.
Except the process isn’t really that random, nor is it just a crapshoot with the computer making the selection.
Once certain criteria are factored in the odds might actually have been stacked against Dao.
For starters, airlines routinely overbook their seats. Based on historical data and future projections, airlines realize that about five to 10 percent of passengers will not show up for a flight for reasons ranging from outright cancellation of their reservation to missing their plane.
In this instance, United confirmed that the flight was not overbooked, per se, but it needed four seats for employees who needed to deadhead to Louisville by the morning for flight assignments.
READ MORE: United Paying The Price Over Incident
United followed the regulations, both federal and internal, and asked for volunteers first. When that didn’t work, it went to its random process to select passengers who would be forced to give up their seats (presumably without the violence).
But, the criteria the computer uses narrows the choices, and it starts to create a ‘bump list’ even before boarding takes place.
Less likely to be chosen – or, for obvious reasons, not chosen at all are:
* Frequent fliers/loyalty program members
* Fliers who bought more expensive tickets
* Passengers who checked in early
* Fliers who have connecting flights (which makes it harder and more expensive for the airline to rebook twice)
* Passengers with disabilities
* And passengers traveling with family, especially unaccompanied minors
So the random choices become much more defined and shrink the pool of available customers. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, your chances to be forcibly bumped from on an overbooked flight became that much greater.