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As we continue our week of United Airlines trashing, a few questions still remain. Namely, why did this even happen? United Airlines' statements on the incident involving an overbooked flight and the forcible removal of a passenger haven't offered much in the way of clarity. Instead, words like "re-accommodate" have been thrown around and the public has reacted with a slew of new motto suggestions for United's future ad campaigns:
We're just as confused as anyone about aviation legalities and the oft-repeated overbooking argument, so we decided to dig for answers. Below, we've rounded up five questions surrounding the United incident and attempted to provide some context on each. Do you plan on subjecting yourself to the annoyance of air travel anytime soon? Take a look:
Why is overbooking even still a thing in 2017?
Overbooking, by its very nature, causes a lot of fucking problems. If someone can waltz into a Taco Bell and order $400 worth of tacos with no possibility of an employee telling them that tacos have been "overbooked," then why is the seemingly simple idea of booking only the number of available seats on a plane so hard to fathom? Well, the answer is a little complicated. According to Travelers United chairman Charles Leocha, banning overbooking could potentially make flying even shittier. "If overbooking is made illegal, ticket prices are going to go up," Leocha told TIME Monday. "The airlines normally do a pretty good job on overbooking." Overbooking a flight benefits airlines, GQ notes, as it would apparently cost them more to book seats that are actually available thanks to data on no-shows.
So I can be removed from an "overbooked" flight, even after I've taken my seat?
Annoyingly, if enough volunteers don't step up to take vouchers, an airline can begin the process of selecting would-be passengers to get booted from the flight against their will. However, this all usually occurs prior to the boarding process. Attorney Alisa Brodkowitz has argued that the United incident's overbooked or "oversold" argument is shaky, as the airline was removing customers and replacing them with crew members. "An airline cannot forcibly remove you from your seat without real justification," Brodkowitz told KIRO 7, adding that one could make the case that this particular incident does not fall under United's contract of carriage policy on oversold flights.
Wait. Don't I have rights as a passenger?
Absolutely. The U.S. Department of Transportation has extensive literature available on passenger rights, including an entire multi-paragraph section on "involuntary bumping." The DOT's explainer notes that airlines set their own "boarding priorities" policy, which predictably makes all of this even more confusing:
When a flight is oversold and there are not enough volunteers, some airlines bump passengers with the lowest fares first. Others bump the last passengers to check in. Once you have purchased your ticket, the most effective way to reduce the risk of being bumped is to get to the airport early. For passengers in the same fare class the last passengers to check in are usually the first to be bumped, even if they have met the check-in deadline. Allow extra time; assume that the roads are backed up, the parking lot is full, and there is a long line at the check-in counter.
Once you're on the plane, you still have a right to "not be assaulted or touched without permission."
So, when I buy a plane ticket, what am I actually buying?
You're not so much buying a physical seat as you are buying a promise from the airline. That promise, as Leocha explained to TIME, is actually not even very specific. "They're paying for transportation from Point A to Point B," Leocha said. "And the way that the airline contracts of carriage are written, they're not even paying for transportation to get them there at the right time. Or the same day. They're just getting the best efforts of the airlines." Well, shit. No wonder so many money-stacking actors are obsessed with learning to fly their own planes.
Why is flying so awful anyway? Don Draper always looked like he was having a great time.
You're right. Don Draper did always look like he was having a great time up in the air.
But a lot has changed since then. Once you make it beyond the shameless voyeurs at TSA, you're then stuck on a cramped plane with pricey WiFi access and—without fail—a baby who immediately shits upon departure. Unsurprisingly, the stress of air travel also does quite a number on your body.