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Bumped – or Dragged – From Airplanes

By Jean Scott, CDC Gaming Reports

Can casinos learn any lessons from the recent incident that show a bloody United Airlines passenger being dragged from an airplane?

Brad and I have had a lot of personal experience with being bumped off airplanes the last 30+ years we have been flying, mainly to and from casinos. However, none of this related to airline “involuntary bumping” procedures, that is, denying people a seat when they already have a firm pre-paid reservation and firmly want to get to their destination in that reserved seat. In fact, when Brad and I first saw the dragging video on TV, we looked at each other and immediately had the same thought. Too bad he and I weren’t on that flight; we could have saved United possibly millions of dollars they may have to be shelling out because of this incident – and scored a nice financial bonus ourselves!

In fact, we are experts in the total opposite airline procedure which is volunteering to give up our reserved seats and getting paid to do it – and I have written often about how to earn what we nicknamed “airline comps.” In my first book, The Frugal Gambler, I spent a whole chapter discussing this subject. And looking over that chapter recently, I was surprised that so much of that 1998 advice is still valid today.

We don’t fly – and thus have as many bump opportunities – as we used to. For one thing, we don’t have the energy to travel we had when we were younger, and we aren’t as anxious to earn money by spending extra hours in an airport. And since we moved to Vegas permanently, we are already in our #1 casino destination. Also we have found that the airlines have been doing a better job the last few years – thanks to “big data” analysis – in estimating just how much they need to overbook to come very close in achieving full – but not over-full – flights. The need for bump volunteers has not disappeared but, in our experience, has decreased considerably.

However when we do fly, we still use many of the very same techniques we used 30+ years ago. Book around busy holiday periods. When we are interested in possible bumps, we check in with the gate agent as early as possible to see if they are starting a volunteer bump list. We like to be at the top of that list.

I have been asked whether I have ever seen a situation like the recent United fiasco where people are already in their seats and the airline needs those seats. I haven’t seen this often, but I have heard the announcement a few times. We usually aren’t told why there are passengers who “deserve” seats more than we do. Sometimes we have been alerted in advance when we had our names put on the volunteer list that we should go ahead and board but they might have us disembark at the last minute. This might be the situation when passengers from connecting flights might arrive late. But a few times there is no advance notice and this is why even after we board and we know it is a full flight, we listen carefully to see whether they will announce a last-minute juicy bonus for people to give up their seats.

I believe the airlines are making some much-needed changes as a result of this terrible negative publicity. Higher compensation amounts to encourage volunteers so there would be less need for involuntary bumping. Not everyone can have flexible traveling plans. Although there are federal-issued minimum amounts, they often are not enough to compensate for things like missed business appointments, important family events, and non-refundable vacation expenses. And there should definitely be higher amounts if the next available flight out involves an overnight stay. Even after Brad and I retired, it would take a large bonus as well as a comped room and breakfast for a delay that inconvenient. Even frugal fliers have their standards!

When I was thinking about this current airline PR problem, my mind, as it so often does, went to the casino industry. In the 30+ years I have been gambling in a casino I have seen some incidents there that would definitely rise to the top of a list of “Major Casino PR Problems.”

Here are some thoughts – free advice – just off the top of my head:

  • Sometimes it pays to “spend” a little more now to avoid “paying” a lot more later.
  • PR is more powerful than lawyer talk.
  • Social media is more potent than you can even imagine. Consider it before you make any new rules or change anything.

Negative publicity WILL send your customers to the competition. And your competition will take advantage of this by offering more customer-friendly policies to reel them in