There has been a lot of bad publicity for airlines recently. Every day it seems there is a news story about someone who has missed a flight because of airline overbooking.

There have been many well publicized American incidents, but the Canadian ones are just as compelling. Even the airline that advertises that it never overbooks has been called out for stranding passengers (they say it was a plane substitution issue).

In my family we have a different view to overbooking – usually. The compensation for voluntarily stepping aside and taking the next flight is well worth the inconvenience. But not always.

My wife recently experienced the overbooking conundrum last week. We had purchased tickets to see U2 in Toronto. I had vacation time available, so I took the day off and drove to the show, but that wasn’t an option for her. I found an airline seat sale that allowed her to leave work on time, and get to Toronto an hour before the show. Given that Toronto Island airport is about a half hour’s leisurely walk from the Rogers Centre where the band was playing, it seemed like a perfect solution.

She got to the airport in plenty of time. Enjoyed a latte in the lounge. Then it was time to board, and they were overbooked. They asked for volunteers to take a later flight. No-one stepped forward. They offered $100, $200, the $300 and still no-one was volunteering. They announced that if no-one volunteered they would choose who was to be left behind, based on the fare paid. There is no doubt that would have been my wife. We had the cheapest seats to the concert – and the airline ticket cost about the same.

They upped the offer to $400, then $500 and finally someone took the bait. I’m assuming it was airline vouchers, but for $500 you can purchase two return tickets from Ottawa to Toronto. Not a bad price for an hour’s delay until the next flight.

So why didn’t my wife, who, has accepted such offers in the past, take the cash this time? After all, she’s seen U2 before, four times I think, so a delay wouldn’t be the end of the world. However, it was our 33rd wedding anniversary and the concert was our date. Our anniversary and her birthday are among the few things that I would have considered more important than the cash. She obviously felt the same way.

The flight was delayed while they sorted the whole thing out and as a result about half an hour late – but she still made it to our seats as the Lumineers hit the stage to open the show.

So what would you have done in a situation like that? Taken the cash or made it to the show on time?



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