How getting bumped off overbooked flights led to $15,800 windfall for Delta passengers
While the United Airlines fiasco highlighted the perils of overbooked flights, one woman has managed to cash in on delayed and cancelled journeys, reaping some US$11,000 (NZ$15,806).
Footage of police dragging 69-year-old passenger Dr David Dao down the aisle of the Kentucky-bound plane as horrified fellow passengers looked on sparked uproar and debate about the ethics of airlines deliberately overbooking flights.
While United initially defended using force to remove Dao, who had refused to give up his seat as he needed to work the next day, the chief executive of the US airline has since announced an internal investigation into the Sunday evening flight and apologised to all those on board, saying "no one should ever be mistreated this way".
No one on the United flight had been tempted by the airline's offer of US$400 and then US$800 to give up their seats, meaning staff made an executive decision about which four passengers would be bumped to a later flight.
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Laura Begley Bloom, however, profited from Delta Air Lines' woes over the weekend - unprecedented storms forced the cancellation of thousands of flights - by agreeing to give up three seats on three different flights, Condé Nast Traveler reported.
Sacrificing her family's seats on their original flight to Florida, two rebooked flights on Saturday and Sunday and a refund for the original fares landed the Forbes Magazine travel editor a US$11,000 payout. The catch: it came in the form of American Express gift cards which expire in six months.
Begley Bloom, who was travelling with her husband and four-year-old daughter to visit relatives, was initially blasé when the airline began offering money for volunteers to give up their seats on the overbooked flight, which had 60 standby passengers.
"I've always quietly scoffed at travellers who would give up a seat on a flight in exchange for a voucher," she said. "Not my thing."
When the offered compensation reached US$900 in gift cards, however, her husband persuaded her to reconsider.
The Begley Blooms drove a hard bargain, convincing the airline to pay them US$1500 apiece to give up their seats.
"Other frustrated passengers were yelling at the staff and crying over vexed travel plans. Somehow when an airline is offering you and your family US$4050, missing a flight doesn't seem so bad."
While the family could have also scored a free hotel room and dinner, they live close to the airport so opted to head home "with a big chunk of change and confirmed seats for a Saturday flight instead".
When Delta called for volunteers to forgo their seats on their next two flights, they again made the most of a bad situation, asking for the maximum amount in compensation, confirmed later flights and seat numbers, and gift cards rather than flight vouchers, which can come with restrictions.
While Begley Bloom believes the unexpected cash bonus made up for the family's missed holiday in Florida, she said that it was a stressful weekend.
"I was stuck at the airport for almost two full days due to the delays," she said. "Passengers were screaming at the staff - and each other. It got a bit nasty. Part of the reason we volunteered our seats on Friday was because there was a chance the flight wouldn't take off at all and we wanted to get our child out of that situation."
Still, Begley Bloom was so satisfied with her windfall that she said she is now considering making a "new career" out of getting bumped off flights, saying one gate agent confessed that some people make thousands of dollars from it.
"And now I understand it. I really do. I'm already starting to think about how I can get bumped off other flights."