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IATA Chief defends “overbooking” and warns against government regulation

IATA Chief Alexandre de Juniac defended the aviation industry practice of overbooking and urged lawmakers to not get caught up with their emotions in the aftermath of the violent deplaning of David Dao off United Airlines Flight 3411 back in April.

With lawmakers cracking down on airlines’ policies as well as overbooking, de Juniac warned against “more heavy-handed government oversight” in the wake of the United Airlines bumping incident.

“Everyone, including United, agrees there is no justification for what happened to passenger Dr. David Dao. United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz has apologized repeatedly and is taking steps to ensure there is never a repeat,” de Juniac said in a statement.

Although United Express flight 3411 on April 9 was initially overbooked, gate agents had resolved that situation by the time Dao and other passengers had boarded the Embraer E170 operated by Republic Airlines.

A Republic crew then showed up at the gate to be transported on the flight from Chicago O’Hare to Louisville, Kentucky, necessitating more bumped passengers. A Chicago Department of Aviation law enforcement officer forcefully removed Dao from the aircraft after refusing to give up his seat for a crew member.

However, the IATA Chief said governments should not use the incident as a reason to regulate overbooking.

“The video was so shocking that it would be easy for lawmakers and regulators to get caught up in this groundswell of outrage and take steps to limit overselling of flights. However, the management of overbooking has actually worked well for decades. It ensures that scarce capacity is efficiently utilized; we see that in today’s record load factors. Overbooking helps airlines avoid empty seats, and that helps to keep costs—and fares—low … We must be careful to not risk undoing the many benefits unleashed by the competitive forces of deregulation,” de Juniac explained.

Southwest Airlines has already announced it will stop overbooking flights while Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian has called overbooking a “valid business process.” Airlines for America (A4A) president and CEO Nicholas Calio said this week that other US airlines are reviewing their overbooking policies.

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Working in the aviation industry? Stay up to date with the fast-changing aviation regulations, conventions and agreements around the world.

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