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How an overbooked flight made my day


This has been a terrible week for the United Airlines and even worse for their unlucky passenger, who was assaulted and then dragged off the plane by force. Now Easy Jet made the headlines with a similar story – without the punching and dragging. A couple heading to Catania, Sicily, were ordered off the flight when it was overbooked. The airline staff then failed to explain their rights or offer these poor holiday makers any compensation, set in the EU261 regulation. EasyJet had failed to adhere to the correct  EU protocol from the start, as they hadn’t looked for volunteers, who would be willing to take the next available flight. But I want to write a happy kind of story about an overbooked flight. Yes, there are those examples too, when the airline has overbooked your flight and they are still able to make you feel amazing about it. Let’s hope the British Airways practice becomes the new overbooking standard in aviation.



Volunteering when a flight is overbooked


I rushed to the check-in desk at the Manchester airport, UK, and dug out my passport. Immediately I was asked if I would like to volunteer to take the next flight, as my first flight had been overbooked. Before I was able to show an irritated frown and decline their offer, they continued that I would of course get a 400€ compensation and an upgrade to business class, which meant that I could use the BA lounge. Now they got my attention.


I asked if I was still able to make it to Helsinki on that evening, as it was already late afternoon and I had a connecting flight via Heathrow. I was told that I will be put on the next flight, which means that I can still get home on the same day.

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    This arrangement caused no inconvenience what so ever, but made me feel like I had just won the lottery. The reason I was so pleased was that I had booked a flight with a 4 hour waiting time at the Heathrow airport. The largest airports are probably those few places that can bring out the worst in me – the hoards of people boarding their Christmas flights, the queuing, the endless tunnels and just way, way too many people for my liking. Now I was presented with an opportunity to cut my waiting time at Heathrow and enjoy champagne and single malt whiskies at BA’s Manchester lounge. Of course I said yes.


    Flight overbooked or delayed: How much compensation am I entitled to?


    AMOUNTFlight destination & distance
    Compensation of € 250 (£ 182)For flights of up to 1500 kilometres
    Compensation of € 400 (£ 290)For all other flights within the EU
    Compensation of € 400 (£ 290)For flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres from or to an airport outside the European Union
    Compensation of € 600 (£ 436)For all other flights


    What you need to know about this compensation rule is that if you are not offered compensation at the airport due to a long delay or an overbooked flight, check your rights online but do not leave the airport. Ask to speak with a supervisor and make the arrangements there and then. Besides financial compensation, you may also be entitled to food, drinks or refreshments, emails, two free phone calls and hotel accommodation in some cases. Especially if you are travelling with small children, getting a hotel room is good practice. The airline must also put you on the next flight, regardless if it is their own flight or if it’s another airline. Airlines can no longer use the aircraft’s technical faults as an excuse for extraordinary circumstances to avoid paying compensation. Unfortunately, they can still avoid paying out by claiming the delay was due to bad weather. 



    What you should do if the airport staff declines your delayed or overbooked flight compensation



    If the airport staff don’t offer you these and you meet the criteria set out in the EU261 regulation, save all the receipts for the purchases like refreshments, food and hotel accommodation.  You can still claim these costs back from the airline, as long as the airport staff had made a mistake and you were entitled to them after all. It’s still best to deal with the issue at the airport. And please, try to keep your cool at all times. The staff usually want to genuinely help you, so try to make it easy for them. It’s likely that you get better treatment if you are a likeable customer. Delays or overbooked flights are not the fault of the check-in staff, although they often get the blame. So how did my own overbooking ordeal end?



    sandwiches at the Manchester airport VIP lounge


    How my overbooking incident ended


    In the end, I made it to the same connecting flight I was meant to be on anyway, so I had just bagged myself 400€ in cash and avoided the Heathrow waiting time. Instead, I chilled at the airport lounge eating through plates of those tiny, little sandwiches that were there to tell me “now have some more champagne and forget about that silly little overbooking blunder”! That’s how an airline should aim to make their customers feel, when the airline is to blame. I felt they valued me as a customer. And I did not complain about the business class upgrade either!


    Since being treated so royally by an airline – which feels like a change to all of those times when my hand luggage was weighed and measured again at the gate when I’m just about to board –  I have appreciated the cash compensation I’m entitled to, as an EU traveller. I will usually offer myself to be transferred, with compensation, to a later flight, if it fits my schedule. If you want to stay in Rome, Paris or Barcelona for an extra night, you need to be the first in the check-in queue! Even if you have checked in online and only have hand luggage, I really recommend speaking to the check-in staff to see if there is an overbooking. If you casually drop in that “the transfer is no problem if they are able to offer business class”, often within Europe we can strike a deal there and then. However, this highly depends on the airline. And if you choose to try out this strategy, it may become handy to refer to the “EU 261 regulation” which states your rights. You can also ask to speak with the check-in manager. As long as you do it in a friendly manner, the check-in staff is likely to want to help you out. Regardless, however, you have a case and you should always exercise your passenger rights. It won’t matter whether you are a citizen of the USA, Singapore, Nigeria or China. As long as your fight stars or ends up in Europe, you have rights.


    I once had a curious conversation at the New York La Guardia airport. I sat next to a guy whose flight was severely delayed. I mentioned “at least you can now cash in”. The look on his face was similar to the meme “conspiracy Keanu” from the Bill and Ted movie. He had no idea what I was talking about. I retreated whispering “ooohh it’s maybe a Europe thing…”.. So at least we now know where it’s best to get screwed over by an airline. Right here on the old continent! So you Americans, memorize the mantra “EU 261 regulation” and look after yourselves over here!


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