While the Easter holiday was for many a period for relaxation and celebration, for some it was anything but. This weekend, travelers in Cancun took to Twitter and Facebook to report Interjet after finding themselves stranded and unable to fly home. This is not a new problem, as every major holiday, hopeful travelers arrive at the airport with suitcases, dreams, and plane tickets, only to discover that the airline sold their ticket to another person. This practice, called overbooking, happens all over the world and is much more common than anyone would like. Interjet, for its part, has fully denied overselling tickets and stated that the company assigns a seat as soon as the ticket is purchased, making it thus impossible to sell the same ticket twice.
Viajeros reclaman a Interjet y Volaris tras quedar varados por sobreventa de boletos https://t.co/LwXHOTeewa
— Joaquín López-Dóriga (@lopezdoriga) March 26, 2016
While overbooking may not have been Interjet’s problem in this particular circumstance, it is still a problem among Mexican airlines. During the first two months of 2016, the Federal Consumer Protection Agency (Profeco) has received 136 complaints from AeroMéxico’s passengers, 66 from VivaAerobus, and 48 from Volaris. Both the Communication and Transportation Ministry (SCT) and Profeco have tried to dissuade airlines from engaging in these practices, with little success. However, this problem is not exclusive to Mexico, as travelers worldwide risk finding themselves at the airport holding tickets to seats that do not exist. Under these circumstances a common question would be: why would the airline do that?
The first answer that comes to mind is that airlines do it for profit. This answer is not incorrect but it is inaccurate. Airlines do not oversell tickets strictly to increase their profits but to avoid potential losses from no-shows. On nearly every single flight, there are a number of passengers who don’t show up for a variety of reasons. To minimize the number of empty seats, as each of which represent a loss, airlines sell an excess of seats which, according to DGAC, cannot exceed 5% in Mexico.
This has an advantage both for airlines and for passengers, as analysts estimate that overbooking flights can help to reduce ticket prices. Overbooking, in fact, is not an easy decision. Airlines analyze a large number of data, including past occupancy trends, to predict whether overbooking will be necessary and to what extent, all in order to prevent stranded, disgruntled passengers. Yet, mistakes can be made and all the data in the world is no consolation to those already waiting at the airport for the airline to place them in another flight. Should you find yourself stranded, the Civil Aeronautics Law states that you have a right to be placed in the next available flight to your destination and, in case of longer delays, for the airline to provide you with accommodation and food for the duration of your wait.
Data sourced from: Lopez Dóriga Digital, Cadena Política, Marketplace, Finanzas Personales, and BCD Travel.