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Did you know that your airline can deny you access to a flight that you have booked and paid for? It is called "denied boarding". The legal text starts with "in the event of an overbooked flight..." How can a flight be overbooked? Does the airline not know how many seats they have on their own aircraft? The text goes on "if you have been denied boarding against your will, compensation will be offered at the airport". Apparently, the EU regulation (EU Reg 261/2004) accepts that airlines deny passengers boarding AGAINST THEIR WILL, if they are compensated.
In practice, this will hit 1-10 passengers on a flight where something "went wrong". The easiest way to avoid it is to check in electronically as early as you can. In my case, not having an Internet mobile phone, I did this at the airport, and got "SBY" (stand-by) instead of a seat number. I was number eight (8) in line for a free seat.
In practice, this happens because big company (BC) had to send four managers to your destination on short notice. Here is a summary of when the travel agency of BC calls KLM (the airline). BC: Sorry for calling so late, we need to send four managers to Berlin (my destination) on Sunday evening. KLM: The flights are already fully booked. BC: They really need to go. KLM: Are you prepared to pay business class prices plus the denied boarding compensation. BC: No problemo. And then, six economy people are denied boarding because the flight is "overbooked". Why six people? In business class, nobody sits on the middle seat (B/E) for comfort reasons.
I was given EUR 250 in denied boarding compensation, and a hotel night in a nice airport hotel, a dinner with one drink, as well as two hotel airport bus shuttles in "denied boarding assistance". I had to get up at 5 o'clock so working the next day was a bit tedious. A friend of mine volunteered to be "denied boarding" in view of the compensation. In fact, the airline is required to call for "volunteers" in the case of an overbooked flight. (Every flight has at least a dozen students. If you need to get home on time, tell the airline they must ask around.) In the end, instead of going home, watching TV and sleeping, I watched TV, slept and went home.
The smoothness of the entire compensation procedure was remarkable. They had one-time-bank-cards filled with EUR 250 prepared. They probably have a business agreement with the hotel where we stayed. As soon as the "denied" passengers had accepted their fate, the remainder was exceptionally well-handled. The KLM representative even explained in detail how to use the bank card to withdraw the money. This can only have one reason. KLM does this on a regular basis.
KLM - to fly or not to fly, that is the question, KLM will let you know...