The Trouble With Overbooking: a Ticketing Agent’s Perspective

One of the most difficult tasks working as a ticketing agent was to deal with overbooking situations. No amount of skills, training or experience helps to diffuse the situation.

How can you justify taking away someone else’s seat even though he purchased the ticket months in advance?

He could be a doctor who is on his way to save lives or a surgeon scheduled to operate at hospital.

It could be family which has been anticipating for so long for their lifetime vacation and canceling them abruptly will cause them undue hardship including expenses including hotel accommodations, car rentals and other expenses.

Or it could be someone  on her way to visit a dying relative who is in critical condition.

Or as I have seen it several times, it could be a young passenger whose relative have  to drive hours to pick him  up at the airport. Without any phone to contact them  it becomes a nightmare for everyone involved. What will make the situation more complicated on the other end is the privacy laws governing airlines. The mother at the end will not be allowed to get information about what occurred to her son’s flights. The passenger could be an elderly with health condition but because of privacy reasons no one will be able to find out what happened to their loved one.

Many people don’t have the luxury to disturb their travel arrangements or  delay their travel plans as they could have a limited amount of time to play with. Delaying them even a day could have incredible amount of frustration.

The bricks they have put together  on top of each other to build their   trip  will suddenly fall apart and no amount of compensation will ever undo the damage they have to go through as a result of being denied boarding.

I know we don’t live in a perfect world. Delays and flight interruptions is part of the game plan one has to expect such as cancellations due to security and weather issues. Passengers do anticipate all these unexpected circumstances. But airlines have the mandate to do everything possible to make a passengers experience somewhat enjoyable. It should not contribute to his nightmare with something that can be avoided at all cost such as overbooking.

Ticketing agents are unfortunately the one who have to deal with the angry passengers and relay to them the bad news. They are the middlemen, the messengers who have to pay heavily what the superiors have purposely created at the luxury of their offices without having to deal with the consequences of their recklessness.

Just with a click of a button they create an incredible amount of damage and someone else with less pay as them has to pay the price. The price some times is heavy as it could affect the health and emotion of the agent dealing with the situation.

The doctor who refused to give up his seat had courage. Unfortunately many people get intimidated easily and allow to be mistreated. If more people had acted as such, airlines would have thought twice before doing what they do in overselling flights and paying little in returns. Consumers are allowed them to do what they do especially in Canada where Canadians are known of their excessive politeness. Even when you take someone’s seat away he will say sorry as if he is the one who had done something wrong.

Airlines in Europe don’t over sale flights as much as in North America as they have to compensate customers more.

Governments are also complicit in the crime. They have been allowing airlines to bully consumers without holding them to accounts. Airlines are nearly suffocating the customer from narrow seats, little compensation for major disruptions such as taking away a passengers seat at any time.

How could airlines be allowed to get away with this I wonder. They have been given away power to act as the police, the sherif, and the judge and the jury.

When you buy a ticket you are signing a contract of giving away your dignity and rights. Buying a ticket doesn’t mean anything as the seat can be taken away without notice and the compensation mechanism is made so complex in favor of the airline. It has to be certain hours of pain and hardship you have to endure before you are entitled for anything.

I had worked for a major  airline for more than 10 years. Customer service has become something of the past except if you are rich. You will have your own checking area, own lounge to wait for your flight and board at a priority lanes and be the first one to get off. Everyone else don’t count as humans.

After speaking up several times about ailing services, profiling minorities especially Muslims I became a threat and was eventually fired from my job even though I was on disability.

The incident on United Airline is not an isolated one. It is a wake up call to hold airlines to account and keep an eye on their policies and how they do business.

Customers have to be treated with some respect as human beings and the overbooking must stop or it must be accompanied with heavy penalties and hefty compensation.


Abubakar N. Kasim lives in Toronto.