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How Might a Chinese Carrier Handle an Overbooked Flight?

By now, you’ve probably heard all the outrage, horror and Twitter zings surrounding America’s least favorite legacy carrier, United. Of course, we’re talking about #bumpgate, and how they forcibly removed a passenger from one of their allegedly overbooked flights. In our homeland, as well as in other countries, it has opened up a dialogue regarding passenger rights.

Sensing an opportunity, I reached out to several of the many Chinese pilot friends I’ve made living close to a local training center. I endeavored to gain their perspective on the United saga, as well as their assessment of how a similar situation might be handled in China. Luckily, three of my closest friends agreed to talk anonymously about their thoughts and about the policies of their employer, Air China.

What do Chinese Pilot’s Think?

For starters, all three of them were absolutely disgusted with the treatment of passenger Dr. David Dao. Since he is Asian, albeit Vietnamese and not Chinese, they still felt a tremendous connection. Each of my friends expressed concerns of being singled out for their ethnicity the next time they visit the States.

When I asked him about what he thought about how United Airlines treated Dr.David Dao, he said this situation was not very “American.”

One pilot, once my neighbor, has spent a bit more time in China post training. He is now preparing for commercial flights, and is thus privy to a bit more detail. As explained to me, Air China, as well as any airline, can overbook flights. But it’s how they handle the passenger flow that is important. If a flight is overbooked, no one is allowed on board until they sort out who will be bumped. He was astounded that United would do this the backwards.

Student Pilots

Another friend of mine, an old workout buddy, was always talking about how he couldn’t wait to go home. He wasn’t very fond of American life. When asked what he thought about UAL’s treatment of Dr. Dao, he said this situation “was not very American.” “America makes such a big deal about human rights, and United Airlines made it very clear that human rights are not very important in regards to transporting those humans who have paid for their seats to their destinations.”

Those still in training here at the nearby academy were similarly upset. Asked in passing what they would do if they were the pilot in command, many told me they would refuse to fly. Furthermore, they would formally voice their concerns with management regarding the treatment of passengers.

So What Exactly Would Happen in China?

It’s nice to know that pilots have our back when it comes to air travel. However, airlines are well within their rights to oversell seats on a plane. Airlines can demand at any time that passengers give up their seats. However, the airline must pay double your one-way ticket (no more than $675) so long as they put you on a flight that arrives at your intended destination within an hour or two. For longer delays, you can expect as much as 4 times what you paid for your ticket in compensation. Airlines are also required to provide a written description to passengers they bump so they know their rights.

United Overbooked

Final Thoughts

Treating passengers like cargo is hardly something that bodes well for brand image. Of course, if you don’t want to run the risk, you can always drive, take a train, or sail to your next destination. It’s sad that those alternatives are even mentioned in the jet age, but voting with your wallet sometimes sends the strongest message. However, thanks to this debacle and it’s resulting public relations nightmare, other airlines are going all-out to ensure that a similar situation doesn’t occur on their metal.