AIRLINES: Southwest v. No-Shows

Southwest Airline Boeing 737
Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 landing in San Diego | © Greg Gross

Southwest Airlines plans to charge passengers who fail to show up for flights without canceling their reservation beforehand. Another onerous airline fee? Not necessarily.

Come 2013, Southwest Airlines’ reputation as a passenger-friendly outfit may take a hit. That’s because, according to NBCNews.com, the airline plans to:

  1. Raise fees for overweight baggage
  2. Raise fees for early check-in
  3. Charge fees for passengers who fail to show up for a flight without canceling their booking

Charging passengers to check in early doesn’t make much sense to me, especially if they’re doing in via an automated process online, and baggage fees get on everybody’s nerves. But the biggest surprise at IBIT was my reaction to Number Three, charging no-shows.

I’m fine with it. In fact, I love the idea.

I hope all the airlines eventually adopt it, not because it generates more cash for the air carriers, but because it ultimately could bring an end to one of the longstanding aggravations of modern air travel.

Overbooking.

As we know, overbooked flights doesn’t happen by accident. It’s standard procedure virtually industrywide. Why? To make up for the inevitable no-shows, which can range from one or two, to a dozen or more if we’re talking about jumbo jets.

You can imagine what happens, then, when every booked passenger shows up for that overbooked flight. You’ve probably seen it — and perhaps even been caught up in it — yourself. Chaos reigns at the gate.

Passengers, who made their reservations in good faith, put themselves on standby lists and then hope for the best — a hope that often goes unfulfilled, especially during the holidays. When that happens, get ready for some serious drama.

Crowds of infuriated travelers descend on helpless gate agents. In the worst cases, people’s travel plans get shredded. Frantic passengers don’t reach their destinations on schedule. Some miss critical connecting flights. Whole vacations have been destroyed in this way.

It’s become the stuff of reality TV shows like “Airline,” “Airline UK” and “On the Fly.” But if you’re ever ensnared in one of these airport mini-dramas, I guarantee you will be far from amused.

So what difference could this no-show fee make? Connect the dots.

If travelers know they’re going to lose money if they don’t bother to cancel a reservation they know they can’t keep, it means fewer no-shows on the day of the flight, maybe even none at all. It also gives the airline a better idea of how many seats it will have available the day of the flight.

Tha should pretty much eliminate the need to overbook flights. No more stressed-out, anguished travelers. No more unfairly abused and harassed gate agents.

No more drama.

If you think about it, Southwest’s move is nothing new. If you reserve a hotel room and then fail to show up without canceling the reservation first, the hotel debits your credit card for the equivalent of one night’s stay.

The hotel industry has been doing that for years, with nary a peep from its consumers.

If this is what it takes to bring peace to the boarding area — and do away with the chaos and unfairness of overbooking — IBIT says, “Bring it on.”

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