United Airlines will let you pay at the gate to bump someone off a full flight

This is an abridged version of my last blog post, because I want to make sure my last point comes through loud and clear.

I understand why the airline industry is a mess. I understand why they overbook and why they have to cut service to keep fares low. I am willing to pay more for better service, but most people aren’t. I get it.

But what I saw happen on Monday night shocked me. United Airlines sold someone a first class ticket, on a sold out flight, just to let them bump someone else off the plane.

You know how you were planning to see your family over Christmas? Sorry, the business man with the corporate card is willing to pay more, so you’ll have to wait.

Yes, this is legal. But this is going too far. It’s one thing to oversell a flight in advance to make sure every seat is taken, but it’s a whole different thing to do this at the gate.

Go ahead and favor your frequent travelers and your business travelers. Yes, it’s ok to give preferential treatment to your most loyal fliers.

But don’t sell my seat on the plane when I’m already at the airport. This seems like a bribe. I could imagine this happening in India, but at least there it would be done under the table.


  1. i’m not sure what’s so terrible about what you describe, SO LONG as a payment is made to the person bumped is greater than what that person would pay to catch the flight.if united offers up $500 to the first person who gives up a seat, i’m sure there will be a taker. you can continue to sell seats if you just buy them back from booked customers.i’m guessing that you were bumped and were not made a good enough offer though?

  2. That’s messed up.I don’t think southwest or virgin does that, again they are relatively expensive compared to other airlines

  3. If a person is willing to pay more money for the seat, they probably have something far more important to do than the person who paid low-ball fares. It might not be fair, but at least if you really really really need to get somewhere, you can pony up a few bones and get on the flight.

  4. It may not be pure "willing" but also "can" .. the whole point is it ethical to sell some a seat first and then take it away.

  5. if there are no volunteers you keep raising the offer (though i’m guessing united doesn’t do this). people are rational actors, that flight isn’t priceless.

  6. Ok so i just read both posts and here is my opinion starting with the second post:Overselling flights at the gate is a kick in the balls to the average american. Average american being the 80% that can’t pay for a first class ticket to bump me. Just cause you have more money doesn’t mean my money means nothing. I still paid for a ticket and want to get home from wherever.Brad: what if you had a family member sick and dying and your only way to see them was the 200 dollars in your pocket? Is my bidness trip to LA worth more than saying goodbye to one of your family members, just cause i have the extra bones to buy a first class ticket? I don’t soTo the first post:Yeah UA sucks nowadays, I flew jetblue and they rocked. Top companys do not always sit on top. I’m sure UA is due for some upgrades from their good ole days.Also PCs aren’t run by one company, that is just the spirit of competition IMO. A cheap dell with some supp’d up graphics will play games better than a 3 grand IMac easy peasy. Even better is dont buy a Dell and build your own PC sometime and you might love it cause its your baby. I dont want to be part of Apple’s society.What up Sachin this posterous blog is awesome!

  7. Sachin, I agree about your comments, however, I dont agree to your last comment. Something like this does not happen in INDIA.I have myself seen this on a couple pf occassions, when a last minute customer is asked to wait till the very end, and only in case of a no show, there are issued a ticket in the last minute.

  8. Ankit, I don’t mean bumping specifically, but taking bribes in general.When I travel to India with my dad, he can get almost anything done with a little bit of cash. Virtually nothing is sold out or inaccessible if you can afford it. And that seems to be the same racket United is playing up here.

  9. Two thoughts:- try flightcaster.com. They have a Web site and mobile apps. They consistently tell you as early as possible if your flight might be delayed. I’ve restructured whole trips, gotten extra sleep, and had dinner with friends just based on Flightcaster. (The airlines tell you as late as possible about delays, because it’s in their interest to have you waiting at the gate.)-don’t start an airline! It’s a terrible business. Air travel is convenient, brings cultures and people together, and (I think) proves often to be kind of fun. But it pollutes immensely and is barely profitable in a good year.

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