Just this week I had my first experience of being told at the check-in counter that my flight was overbooked. I was supposed to leave from Shanghai Pudong airport to Kuala Lumpur for a meeting before the Spring Festival holidays, but since the airline's best option was a flight the next morning, I canceled the trip and the meeting altogether because it wouldn't make sense with the overall schedule. At the check-in counter next to me was a similar case. The lady was told the bad news and she was very upset and was almost yelling at the ground crew about the airline being irresponsible for accepting bookings and purchases without being 100% certain that there are seats for everyone. All affected passengers were offered compensation and a night stay at a hotel, but to some of us, we would rather switch places with the people who were lucky to be on that flight to get on with our plans.
These airlines have fancy and complex algorithms that make the overbooking balance as perfect as possible and offering compensations to customers triumph empty seats, which makes economic sense. I did not do a big research on how it works with the algorithms but the whole thing is actually more complex than what I have just described. But this is not the focus of my article.
My focus is the aspect of customer satisfaction. Companies always emphasize on customer satisfaction and we conduct surveys with our customers to find out what we could do to improve and increase the level of satisfaction. And if we are an effective company, we put together an action plan and cascade down the whole organization to execute and monitor it. So if airlines know that they will upset their customers by overbooking their flights, why do they still do it? Beside the fact that it makes economic sense for them, there is the other major factor that is encouraging this practice.
Airlines Know That We Depend On Them!
Due to the economic condition the last couple of years, companies have been looking closely at their operating costs and expenses and the two things out of a list of costs and expenses that they usually cut the most are training costs and travel expenses. There will be no investments for training and approvals for travel may be difficult and comes with condition. The travel agencies are only allowed to search and reserve the cheapest flights, which would require transit at least one time, if you're lucky. In my case it was the cheapest flight in the cheapest category during a peak season so it was clear why I got bumped. I just did not expect it, that's all.
It's fair to say that companies and private customers could boycott these airlines, which we have seen happened after the incident with United Airlines, dragged a passenger out from an overbooked flight in 2017. But seriously, how long do you think the boycott would last? It gave bad publicity to United Airlines and we hear people vowed that they would never travel with United Airlines but in no time, they are back again with United Airlines. All is forgiven as long as customers have cheap tickets. It is the same with companies.
So, the conclusion is we will never forget bad experiences with airlines but this does not mean that we will never fly again with these airlines, well, maybe Dr. David Dao. At least, I know I will fly with this airline the next time I go to Kuala Lumpur because nobody cares what happened before.