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Good Question: Why Do Airlines Overbook Flights?


MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- United Airlines says it's reviewing why a security officer dragged a passenger from a plane.

Video of the man screaming before a security officer dragged him down the aisle quickly went viral Sunday.

United says it had overbooked a flight leaving Chicago.

Nobody volunteered, so a computer picked the man to give up his seat for a crew member.

He refused.

So, why do airlines overbook flights? Good Question.

"Airlines overbook, not to be capricious and mean, they actually do it because people don't show up for flights," said Samuel Engel.

Engel is an aviation consultant with ICF.

"You can have up to 10 percent of the people who don't show up for their flight. And if the airlines didn't make accommodations for that, we would all need to be paying higher fares to cover those empty seats," said Engel.

Engel said if someone misses a flight, most airlines will get them on another one with little cost to the passenger. But it's an empty seat and lost money for the airline on the flight the passenger missed. Overbooking keeps the losses grounded.

He said that about 1.8 million passengers fly major airlines every day. Of that, just over 100 are involuntarily denied boarding.

"If you look at that ratio, that tiny percentage, that tiny percentage has been coming down for over 20 years," said Engel.

On the rare occasions it does come down to picking passengers to remove, Engel said status does come in to play for most airlines. First class and frequent fliers are often immune to this. Though convenience is considered.

"Rather than removing a passenger who's going to have to wait eight hours to get on the next flight, I'd rather remove a passenger who can get on a flight an hour later," said Engel.

Engel said this video was the first time he'd seen someone physically removed because of overbooking.

Witnesses said the man told employees he was a doctor with patients the next day.

United's CEO called it an "upsetting event" and said the airline is now trying to reach the passenger.

To learn more about your rights as a passenger on an airplane, click here.

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