Why some air travelers are pulling a “no show”

By | October 27th, 2013

Even though he couldn’t use his airline ticket, Eric Smith refused to cancel his reservation on a United Airlines flight from Omaha to Baltimore.

The reason? Smith, a technician at an aerospace company in Montgomery Village, Md., ran a few numbers, with frustrating results.

His return ticket cost $134, plus baggage fees. But United’s change fee, which was recently raised from $150 to $200, would have completely zeroed out the value of his credit. So he booked a one-way return flight on Southwest Airlines for $152 — about the same as his original flight, including baggage fees — and never looked back.

“Why should I spend any of my precious time on hold to cancel the ticket when I get absolutely nothing out of it?” he says. “To do the airline a favor? Do you think they would do me any favors?”

No one knows exactly how many passengers pull a no-show when their change fees exceed the value of their ticket credit, deliberately depriving an airline of its ability to resell their seats. But by almost all accounts, their numbers are rising, as airlines continue to raise the price of changing a nonrefundable airline ticket.

A United Airlines spokesman declined to comment on the subject of intentional no-shows in general, and Smith’s case in particular. But it’s hardly the only airline faced with customers who are angry about elevated change fees.

When Laura Attwood wanted to change her recent ticket on Alaska Airlines from Anchorage to Ketchikan to an earlier flight on the same day, the carrier told her that it would be happy to make the change as long as she paid a $100 fee. She refused, choosing instead to cash in miles for a new flight.

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“In fact, I checked in and picked my seat on the flight I wasn’t going to make, and confirmed it,” says Attwood, who lives in Maple Bluff, Wis. “That way, they couldn’t resell my seat. I was so mad that I had to pay a change fee.”

An Alaska Airlines representative acknowledged that the airline experiences deliberate no-shows on some flights, although she wouldn’t say how many. Yet its change fees are far more reasonable than those of other airlines. Alaska charges $75 for an online change and $100 if it’s done through a call center. Effective Oct. 30, its call-center change fee jumps to $125. But any changes made two months before a flight don’t incur any fees.

“It’s an issue for us,” says Marianne Lindsey, a spokeswoman for the airline. “When we experience no-shows, it results in unused seats, which translates to lost revenue.”

The task of ensuring that these strategic absences aren’t felt in the bottom line falls to airlines’ sophisticated revenue-management programs, which are designed to oversell a flight based on a calculation that a certain number of passengers won’t show up.

“On certain fares, and on certain routes, there will be a higher number of no-shows,” says Warren Lieberman, president of the technology consulting firm Veritec Solutions and one of the pioneers in the field of airline revenue management. “If they’re selling tickets for $149, you can predict that more passengers will walk away from the fare, because the change fee is $200.”

But the programs handling airline seat inventory, which are called yield-management systems, don’t need to be reset when change fees increase. Rather, the algorithms are “self-adjusting” and will automatically tweak prices and seat availability to fit passengers’ behavior, says Lieberman. In other words, they already know that passengers like Attwood and Smith won’t make their flights.

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Hari Subramanian, a director for Sabre, a travel technology company, says that it’s essential to use these systems to anticipate passenger behavior. “No one is going to come out and say, ‘This is what we’re willing to pay for a ticket,’ ” he says. “Or, ‘We won’t show up for the flight if you do that.’ ”

In the airline industry, this kind of high-tech soothsaying is known as passenger choice modeling. It collects data about passenger behavior, including fares, connections, time of day and the type of traveler, and uses complex mathematical formulas to help airlines determine how many seats they can sell, and at what price. The modeling helps an airline make money.

And airlines are making lots of money from change fees. The domestic airlines collected more than $2.5 billion in ticket-change fees in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, up from $2.4 billion a year before.

But perhaps unwittingly, American carriers have also begun playing a cat-and-mouse game with their own customers, in which they raise fees, and passengers in turn try to sabotage the revenue-management systems by walking away from a ticket credit that has been partially or fully consumed by a change fee.

Subramanian says that passengers can avoid the game by making smarter booking choices. The preferred airline solution is to buy a fully refundable ticket. But those fares are typically priced for business travelers on an expense account and can be three to four times as expensive as a nonrefundable ticket.

He recommends looking for a so-called “flexible fare,” which some airlines offer — a special ticket that includes the benefit of waiving certain surcharges and would allow you to change your plans without having to pay a $200 fee.

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The long-term solution, of course, is for both sides to practice a little restraint. Already, airlines such as Alaska and JetBlue have shown that there’s some middle ground, and their experience suggests that passengers are willing to accept some fees, as long as they’re reasonable. Southwest Airlines seems to confound even the experts by having no change fees at all.

And what if airlines and their customers can’t come to an understanding? It’s difficult to imagine change fees climbing any further without the government stepping in and saying, “Enough.”

Are airline change fees reasonable?

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  • Justin

    So let me summarize the article. Airline X oversells seats, hopes passengers don’t show, and double dips revenue. To encourage double dipping, most airlines set change fees higher than the value of ticket, hoping an undetermined number of passengers are no-shows.

    Am I the only one further disgusted by airlines gaming the system. I’m all for profits. Making billions off baggage fees, changes, speaking to a live person, etc have made customer service all but customer friendly.

  • Bill___A

    So if the passenger is a no show and the airline gets paid for the seat anyways, how is it “lost revenue” to the airline that’s a concern? They lose the opportunity to sell the seat twice, but they still get the initial revenue.
    If an airline charges a cancellation fee that’s as high or higher than the ticket, then they are saying it is not worth it to them to have the customer call in and say they are not flying. If it is worth something to them, they should price accordingly.

  • Nica

    I was thinking the same thing. Granted, they cannot resell the seat, but you still keep the money from the person that did not show.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I don’t understand the logic behind checking into a flight that you aren’t going to take. Either way, at T-15 or whatever the magic number is, the airline releases the seat to be purchased by walk-ups, standby passengers, etc.

    But I agree about not cancelling a ticket. Eric Smith bought the ticket. Its his to use or not use. There is no moral or ethical precept that would mandate that he make it easy for the airline to sell the same seat twice.

    Also, suppose his plans change back and he now needs the original ticket. Had he cancelled the ticket, he’d be screwed. Basically, there is zero upside to cancelling the ticket.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    It’s an issue for us,” says Marianne Lindsey, a spokeswoman for the
    airline. “When we experience no-shows, it results in unused seats, which
    translates to lost revenue.”

    It took me a moment to understand what she was saying, given I rarely trust anything they say. Suppose I buy a non-refundable ticket for $1200 with a $200 change fee. An hour before the flight, I cancel my ticket. The airline will argue that it effectively loses $1000 as it probably won’t resell my seat. Although I’m not sure what that has to do with no-shows, especially if the ticket and change fee are comparable.

  • sirwired

    They don’t actually lose the ability to sell the seat twice. They know there will be no-shows, so flights are overbooked. (Sometimes they guess wrong, and that’s when bumping happens, but it’s actually quite rare.)

    And even if they didn’t overbook, they can very well use the seat for a standby passenger (and sell his/her seat on a later flight for actual money.)

  • Cybrsk8r

    I’d like to see some sort of fee structure based on time. As is it right now, the fee is the same whether you change your flight 3 days before, or 3 months before. But in terms of revenue impact on the airline, there’s a huge difference. Three months out, the airline WILL re-sell that seat. Three days out? Maybe not.

    So I think there should be a sliding fee scale based on how long before the flight you actually make the change/cancellation. Three months results in no fee. Then, as the date of the flight gets closer, the fee goes up, little by little, until perhaps a week before the flight we get back to a full change fee.

  • sirwired

    Agreed. People might not be so upset about change fees if they had some remote grounding in costs. I would think a nominal fee ($25 or so) as a base for all changes, and a % of the fare as the flight date approaches. Starting at maybe 25% less than three months out, all the way up to maybe 50-75% 48 hours out for domestic, a week out for international.

    (Really, the fairest would be to set the maximum higher for really full flights, and lower for flights that usually have empty seats, but that would make things too complicated.)

  • Justin

    I’ve been on an overbooked flight once before, but then at the last minute, a passenger was a no-show. Airline appear pretty good at double dipping and getting away with the action.

  • Justin

    A tiered cancellation system has potential to resolve the aforementioned concerns. Of course, airlines love one size fits all gouging. Luggage, Live Help, Cancellation fees and so forth.

    A huge difference exists between cancelling 24, 48, 72 hours in advance and moments before take off. Southwest’s absence of a fee shows the “sky is falling” argument Marianne Lindsey states is overblown. At worst, I think airlines with feeds need ones reflective of the time frame. 72 Hours and more = 100% Refund + no change fee. 24 hours Hours = 75% refund or 100 dollar change fee, whichever is less. Less than 24 Hours – 50% refund or 200 dollar change fee, whichever is less.

    Some value is better than a lost ticket.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I’ve also walked away from a ticket. I even went through the effort to check in online just to make a mess of the airline trying to put another butt in that seat on a matter of principle. Now, do I think they put a standby or deadhead in it, sure. But they couldn’t resell it.

    Vigilante justice. If you’re going to lose $200 on a change fee for a cheap ticket, it makes sense.

  • disqus_A6K3VBf8Zn

    I would and will do the same too. Tickets are reasonable only at certain times and days. Trying to buy tickets on Fri-Mon, I find inflated fares. Tues. is perhaps the only decent day, if there are seats left. Sell back? Eating the loss is cheaper…

  • NoJets

    I work at an airline (at the airport) and I love no shows! From my perspective, please feel free to not cancel your ticket! If you choose to cancel, that works too!

    That family that booked late and didn’t reserve seats together and chose not to pay for premium seating at the time of booking? Now they’re covered and seated together! (BTW, I’ve never had to seat young children away from their parents.)

    The people booked on the later flight and tried to go standby on the early one, now they’re on and we can potentially sell the later departure to walk-ups at a premium.

    When airline employees are traveling standby and want to make a flight, now they’re on too!

    Yes, the revenue managers will tell you that they are not getting the opportunity to sell the seats, but they have the money form the original ticket anyway. Trust me, the seats that open up just before departure are put to good use!

  • Raven_Altosk

    Nope, I fully believe it’s time to re-regulate the airlines. The fares may be higher, but at least then they’ll have to answer for their ridiculous fee structure.

  • NoJets

    …on the flip side…cancelling your seat gives someone else who really needs it the opportunity to buy it. Funeral, dying relative…etc. Depending on the circumstances, it could hurt an individual more than an airline. (replied to myself rather than editing my original post)

  • MarkKelling

    I fail to see how no shows who don’t cancel their flight result in lost revenue for the airline – unless they mean lost revenue because they don’t have the opportunity to sell a seat for the second time at a higher fare and keep both payments or lost revenue because the no show doesn’t pay luggage fees or change fees or buy the really bad high priced food on board.

  • Danielle

    I’ve been a no-show before. I’ve also taken the first leg of a flight without continuing on the second leg (cheaper than a multi-city ticket). I’ve never felt bad about it. I bought the seat, so it was mine to use or not. Unfortunately, even though you paid for a certain number of miles, they won’t give you the reward miles if you don’t actually show up on the plane.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    How can the airlines claim it is lost revenue when the traveler paid for the seat and just didn’t show up?

  • S363

    We need to fly Southwest when we can, as they don’t rip us off for baggage fees and, especially, CHANGE FEES! One can even rebook oneself on the same flight if the fare goes down, and while you don’t get a refund, you get a credit to use within one year. For the life of me I don’t understand how the legacy carriers get away with what they get away with.

  • EvilEmpryss

    How do paid-for empty seats equate to a loss for the airline? Having worked in the military calculating payloads for flights, I know that fewer pax and less cargo means less fuel needed for the flight. If Passenger X pays for a seat, confirms it, and doesn’t show, the seat was still paid for but the trip costs that much less for the airline to fly.

    It just sounds to me like whining from the industry that they couldn’t double-dip the empty seat.

  • Terri217

    So, the seat has already been paid for. They charge the customer $200 to change to a different flight and now rebook the seat for a higher price I’m sure, since it would be probably be a last minute booking. Wow. One reason we won’t fly again. I always say, until they piss off a congressman, we won’t see a single change, and of course, since our congressmen fly first class…..we’re not going to ever see change.

  • BMG4ME

    The seat was sold at a below-cost price in exchange for restrictions. If they didn’t want fees they had the option to pay extra for a full price seat with no fees. Also airlines oversell because they know people won’t show up, and are able to accommodate extra passengers at the last minute as a result. I wonder therefore how much revenue they REALLY lose as a result? I agree that there is no incentive to cancel the seat if there is no cost to not do so and no benefit to do so, and it’s OK to not cancel for that reason. If airlines want passengers to cancel then they could offer an incentive for canceling, such as extra miles or a reduced change fee that results in money or miles in pocket.

  • BMG4ME

    You are right, I forgot about that in my reply above – the seat was paid for so if the customer doesn’t show up, it’s only a loss to the customer, not to the airline. What the airline is complaining about is their lack of ability to sell the seat twice, which in some industries is considered stealing.

  • GaryDMoll .

    Wait until everyone figures out the airline saves $4.16 per 100# per 100 miles in fuel burn when a passenger is checked in but not traveling. The “no-show” passengers will be loading a couple 50-pound sacks of rice into their empty seat, just to get even with the airline.

  • Ceenite

    Ticket change fees are obscene, it takes a few minutes to change an electronic ticket, a few key stokes and done.
    Remember when the airlines started pushing e tickets? easier, no paper, blah blah blah, now they use them to make more money at your expense. Check and be a no show.

  • DavidYoung2

    I guess if a passenger checks in and gets a boarding pass, then they can’t double-dip. How long until angry flyers say, “Ok, then I’ll check in AND check a bag.” Of course, the ‘bag’ is just an old box with a telephone book in it. Then at the last minute, the airline has to go and find the bag to pull it off because the passenger is a no-show.

    Hey Airlines, if you decide to keep abusing your customers, maybe they’ll abuse you back. Just a thought.

  • $16635417

    Except the empty seat from the no-show is usually given to an airline employee traveling standby, so they still have to factor in the fuel burn.

  • That makes two of us. Airlines love to say they are the “most regulated” industry. What nonsense.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Obscene, that’s exactly the word. I’m happy to hear that passengers are standing up to be counted, letting your seat fly empty is about the only way to fight back. I read: “Alaska charges $75 for an online change and $100 if it’s done through a call center. Effective Oct. 30, its call-center change fee jumps to $125. But any changes made two months before a flight don’t incur any fees.” Even though $125 is awful, at least Alaska is acknowledging that changes made 60 days out should be fee-free. I’ve said it before: collecting $200 for a change requiring no effort on the airline’s part is crazy. If someone is changing a flight, the airline is NOT losing the revenue from that passenger. Charging $200 is definitely obscene.

  • bodega3

    I am not defending the carriers, but you are incorrect on the few key stoke comment. There is paper work involved in any change to a ticket over and above the initial reissue.

  • bodega3

    As someone who has sold tickets for decades, how you use your roundtrip ticket has always been an issue with me. If you buy a ticket for roundtrip travel, then that ticket should be yours to use or not. The back to backs rules also gets me. What does it matter except that they feel they are losing money on it. We get penalized if we sell back to backs yet, honestly, it makes sense for the traveler and the carrier is still getting their seats filled at fares they set.

  • Crissy

    Perhaps the answer is to have the change fee be a % of the cost of the flight, maxing out at $200, instead of a flat fee. That’s of course with me being realistic to the fact that they aren’t going to get rid of the fees. No matter how ridiculous I think they are.

  • Crissy

    While I agree with your point that the seat was paid for and they made money, they are missing potential revenue.
    If it was a cheap seat that was purchased at $150 and is now selling for $400. The airline is losing out on the change fee and the revenue for the new ticket sale. They’re also losing out on the revenue for any extras that passenger might have purchased.

  • MarkKelling

    Just that with the average air passenger these days it would be more like 4 sacks of rice.

  • MarkKelling

    You may have educated me on this topic before, and if you have I apologize for not remembering, but what paperwork unless it was originally a paper ticket?

    Travel agents may have papers to fill out for rebookings and so on, but I seriously doubt that when I walk up to the airline’s own counter at the airport or log in to their web site to change my ticket that physical paper is generated. Sure, I know there is some online report generated somewhere in the airline’s system that lists reissued or refunded tickets. I know that whenever I get a refund of a refundable ticket it always comes with a statement of “subject to review by internal audit department” but does this actually mean someone is actually looking at each and every change and signing off (electronically of course) that the change is approved? If so, no wonder airlines have such a difficult time making money. Think of the cost of all of those bodies!

  • MarkKelling

    But if the change fee exceeds the value of the ticket, and it does for most advance purchase short haul flights, why would any passenger want to pay it when it is less costly to simply buy a whole new ticket?

    If the airlines are basing their revenue and profitability projections solely on how many penalty fees they collect there is something fundamentally wrong with their business philosophy and whatever business school those making the decisions to structure themselves this way went to should lose their accreditation.

  • sirwired

    If you aren’t on the jetbridge 10 minutes before departure, you give up your seat if they want it; it doesn’t matter if you checked bags, checked in at the kiosk, or are wandering around the terminal, boarding pass in hand. And they don’t have to pull your bag; they haven’t had to do this since they got the checked bag x-rays installed.

    In any case, why would anyone do this? If you are at the airport checking a bag, you are ready to go on your original flight. Exactly why would you be there otherwise?

  • bodega3

    There are reports that airport agents have to do. A lot of what we do and they do is now computer generated, but it isn’t just a few key strokes. On my end, we have printouts when we do ticket exchanges but the weekly report is now done online. I use to have to do that report by hand each week…ugh! A friend of mine worked an airline city office and she had to do a report at the end of her shiit…which was probably when they closed.

  • cowboyinbrla

    Carver – the “logic” behind checking in is this: If you’ve already checked in for the flight and made your seat assignment, the airline probably assumes you’re much more likely to make your flight than someone who has a ticket but who, at 30 minutes out, still hasn’t checked in. Big airports have stopped the practice, but in smaller airports I still hear passengers being paged to a gate because the plane is about to close its doors. That suggests to me that the airlines don’t count on being able to resell that seat. Standbys may have already been told “that flight has already checked in full” and they’ve gone off to wait for another flight somewhere else. So there IS sometimes opportunity, if one desires, to screw with the airline.

  • delivron

    And you have just successfully explained why I have been a loyal Southwest customer since they came to Albany, NY. It is amazing how US Airways customers in Albany have shifted to Southwest. A few years ago on a Monday morning the lines were long at US Airways. Now ticket windows are substantially reduced.

  • Thomas Ralph

    Airlines sell tickets at lots of prices. Non-refundable, refund as travel credit less a fee, right up to fully changeable and refundable in hard cash up to a year afterwards. People can choose the level of flexibility they require and pay the appropriate cost. I don’t think it’s reasonable for people to come here and demand flexibility they haven’t purchased.

  • Alan Gore

    And it’s the airlines’ own damn fault. Non-refundable tickets were introduced to reduce no-shows, weren’t they? How can they not understand that not offering some incentive to call in a cancellation for an unused flight means that passengers tend to return spite for spite and become another no-show.

  • Carchar

    Airlines sell those non-refundable tickets at many times the cost of changing a ticket. The cancellation insurance they sell has too many loopholes. The average leisure traveler cannot afford that and airlines take advantage.

  • Ceenite

    Tickets reports are computer tracked and generated. To rebook, you resell the segments, delete the old ones, re-eval the ticket and end the record, a few more clicks if you want to assign a seat…2 minutes tops..for 200 dollars, nice payday.

  • Carchar

    I also think that if one pays for an airline ticket, or a hotel room, or a rental car and doesn’t use it, one should receive the rewards, (miles, points,) that come with actually using the product.

  • Alan Gore

    Airline yield management software would make a sliding cancellation scale very easy to implement, even if the booking profiles of individual routes were to be taken into account. I think that the fixed $300 fee is set up to conceal the fact that we are being screwed over for massive extra amounts for changes that are made months out.

  • bodega3

    Really, is that how you do it on your GDS and you do a report every day?
    I wish it was that easy!

  • MarkKelling

    I should have realized that it was more complicated especially since airline seem to be the only place dot matrix printers are still used to print multiple reports for each flight as it readies to depart.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    That doesn’t suggest that to me at all. Perhaps one of the travel professionals can advise.

    My experience is at T-30 the gate agents will begin boarding the plan. At about T-10, if there are standby passengers, and the line is finished, the gate agents may or may not page missing passengers, but they release the seats and begin taking standbys.

    I have never experienced a gate agent telling standbys to go away, unless the plane is substantially oversold. Seems like a very bad idea as those standby passengers should stick around in so they can be accomodated should someone not show up, a fairly common occurence.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I feel Southwest has the best ticket change/cancellation policy, as the cost is minimal and you only really pay the difference between the two fares.

    The airlines charging $100, $150, or more to change a ticket are gouging the passenger, pure and simple. While I understand it can take a person to make a change to a ticket (in the case of calling in, it certainly doesn’t cost the airline this much money to change it. Also, if someone were to change their ticket online by themselves, that costs then nothing at all so why charge us for anything beyond the difference in fares?

    This is a money grab and I understand the anger and angst of the flying public. Airlines don’t make policy that’s consumer friendly in the slightest, so they shouldn’t be so surprised when the consumer is less than friendly.

  • bodega3

    While I get why the carriers went to fees many years back, I agree that it is a money grab for them now. They use to pay us $25 a ticket to handle an exchange as that was what it cost to issue any ticket. Then they cut us out of anything and if we handle the exchange, they keep all the money. Yes, something is wrong with this picture!

  • sirwired

    If there are standbys there’s no reason to let that plane leave with empty seats. As Carver said, at T-10 you are going to lose your seat if the airline wants to put somebody in it.

    People fail to show up for flights they have checked in for all the time; the airline knows this and isn’t going to send away standbys until the door is shut. Why would they? It’s not as if the standby passengers have anything better to do.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The fares may be higher…

    And that’s a good thing?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Because the passengers actions in returning “spite for spite” seems largely impotent. Their actions do not seem to have any meaningful effect.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I agree with you that a tiered system would be more passenger friendly and arguably a more ethical system. From the airlines perspective, this seems to be working quite well. The “aforementioned concerns” seem to be solely on the passenger’s side

  • Cybrsk8r

    My philosophy exactly. Why should I spend my precious time cancelling a ticket so the airline can sell that seat twice? Especially when they do everything short of turning me upside down and trying to shake loose change out of my pockets.

    BTW. I am Eric Smith.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Well, honestly, I really don’t care what the airline does with my seat when I don’t show up. My whole point is that I’m not going to lift a finger to help the airline when they do everything short of turning me upside down to shake loose change from my pocket.

    This is why I won’t fly legacy carriers anymore. I’ve actually flown Southwest to a nearby city and driven two hours to avoid the likes of United, Delta, etc.

    And it’s more than just the airline’s policies. The employees at Southwest seem to actually enjoy their jobs. I had a flight from Dulles to Albequerque where the head flight attendant could have been a stand up comic. He was great. He was really funny. That was the best flight I’ve ever had. United planes are flying caskets by comparison.

    BTW. I am Eric Smith.

  • teddybeargraham

    i love when the airlines say to buy a fully refundable seat and then problem would be solved, since most of them are 3-4 times more money than the original seat, why wouldn’t you just buy 4 different seats and then take the one that’s most convenient for your schedule also.

  • Cybrsk8r

    That would be like Wal-Mart charging you a 95% re-stocking fee on an un-opened microwave oven that they then just put back out on the shelf to sell again.

  • NoJets

    The point I’m making is that a no show is a win win for the airline regardless if you cancel beforehand or not. From the operational perspective, the no show gives us a chance to use it at departure, whether it is giving a better seat to someone at the gate, or putting a standby on board. Cancelling beforehand gives someone who may need it a chance to buy it and get where they want to go.

    I disagree with airline person quoted referring to a no show as lost revenue, it’s more like a lost opportunity at additional revenue….but not lost revenue.

    The way to really screw it up would be to randomly cancel some and no show on others, that would mess up the yield management computers algorithms to predict the number of no shows on each flight.

  • Cybrsk8r

    What I would like to see is a return to two checked bags in the price of your ticket. This would eliminate the ridiculous spectacle of people trying to bring something on the plane that no sensible person would call a “carry-on”.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    By definition, the more items included the greater the fare needs to be. I personally prefer the option of packing light and having the lower fare.

  • DavidYoung2

    We were on a flight earlier this month when they said they had to pull two bags because the passenger didn’t show. Maybe it’s a voluntary thing that Delta does.

    And if you’re hoping for an earlier flight, as passenger Attwood did in Elliott’s post, then yeah, you can wrap up an old magazine in a plastic bag and ‘check’ it.

  • Guest

    Exact to get some new rules that make things harder for other passengers. That is how fees came to be in the first place.

  • bodega3

    Except to cause new rules or fees due to the actions of former passengers. This is how fees came to be in the first place.

  • Justin

    Never a problem when you’re not the one having to worry Et. Al the Airlines.

  • dave3029

    If counter agents and gate agents did their jobs properly, there would be NO items for carry-on that did not fit the required dimensions or in the overhead bins.

  • Thomas Ralph

    Ticket change fees have nothing to do with the effort involved and everything to do with trying to get passengers who want flexibility to buy a more flexible ticket from the get-go next time.

  • Thomas Ralph

    If I can’t afford something, I don’t buy it. I don’t expect to be given it for free.

  • This has happened many times and I have met once already. It really is the most frustrating thing I’ve ever known. The increase in the cost surprises and no good reason makes me bored airlines now

  • Justin

    You know the easiest way to get around checked luggage? Take your bags to the gate as a carry on. If there’s not enough room on the aircraft, the gate agent tends to toss luggage as check-ins.

    I prefer carry on as I hate waiting for baggage claim.

  • Andrew F

    Simple. Make the change fee equal to a reasonable fraction of a new ticket price. The fraction may increase as the time of the flight nears — but it shouldn’t exceed 50%, ’cause otherwise a lot of customers will still do the no-show out of spite.

  • Lindabator

    The point of nonrefundables and the ticket change fees – was to reward those who booked, and then actually TRAVELLED on their flights, with the lowest fares. Problem is, people want to change the flights multiple times, and that’s why the fees keep increasing – to get a better handle on the situation – otherwise they would all move to flexible and refundable, and NO cheap seats at all. NOT what the public wants.

  • Lindabator

    Cowboy is correct – and that activity will only mean even more punitive measures by the airlines, should these cases become more prevalent.

  • Lindabator

    But that means they have to ASSUME there are people 10 minutes prior waiting to board that flight – versus being able to actually SELL it once you release the space. BIG IF!

  • Lindabator

    It was the constant changes when the fees were low that LED to the problem in the first place. Unfortunately, you can blame the folks who can never make up their minds – the airlines do not WANT you to change those low fares – they need to manage the yield effectively, and in order to offer those low fares, need to know they are not constantly needing to change them – it is why the fares/fee structure is set up the way it is, unfortunately.

  • Lindabator

    No shows are expected – but the petty people who actually checkin for a flight they KNOW they are not taking is what is wrong – they CANNOT put that poor person on the nonstop to go the funeral last minute because they assume the flight is sold – this activity really does hurt the passengers waiting more than the airline, too!

  • Annie M

    There is no such thing as the airline losing revenue for no shows – they have already received payment for the ticket at whatever the price the client paid. They just can’t make money by selling the seat a SECOND time and why should they? They’ve already been paid for the seat!
    And good for the customers who figure out the system.
    Who benefits? The person in the seat next to the now show – they now have more arm space.
    If they had reasonable change fees, then everyone would be winners.

  • Lindabator

    Amen – and the hidden cities (Like Danielle). Wish it could be easier, but these rules have been around for ages – just that now clients like to change their minds multiple times before travelling, which has been a reason for the higher change fees.

  • Lindabator

    And ARC reports, etc. You obviously know only one part of ticketing.

  • Lindabator

    And every week, the airlines have to give reports to FAA – even more paperwork than each GDS.

  • Lindabator

    True on a lot of levels – by offering the lowest fares with the highest restrictions, you give them a bargain they have to learn to live with or pay a penalty when they do change.

  • travelgal2011

    “The task of ensuring that these strategic absences aren’t felt in the bottom line falls…”
    I don’t get it. The airline has already sold the seat. They are not returning or crediting any of the passenger’s money. They aren’t even serving up a soda to the passenger that doesn’t show. So how exactly does this “no show” impact the bottom line? Oh…in the unreasonable walk-up fare they could have charged for the suddenly available seat. This doesn’t seem as much as a case of lost revenue as much as a lost chance to double dip.

  • Mark Cuban

    “The fares may be higher, but at least then they’ll have to answer for their ridiculous fee structure.”

    That makes no sense what so ever. Higher fees and they will still have the stupid rules. Only fares will be higher. Much higher. Absolutely do NOT let the government tell the airlines what prices they have to charge.

  • Ceenite

    I know both sides actually, we are talking about the AIRLINES side not the travel agencies..

  • Lindabator

    And having WORKED for the airlines, as well as being an agent – just because the actual RES agent doesn’t do the paperwork, doesn’t mean there isn’t someone in the head office who is required to. You are given only a small part of the job – and don’t even realize it, obviously.

  • Ceenite

    ahh, I am speaking with god, i am humbled…

  • bodega3

    How do you know these details? You seem to not want to share your insight.

  • bodega3

    Yes, changing plans after ticketing has become a huge issue and why they started the fees. When I started selling airline tickets, once someone bought a ticket, they stuck to their plans. I have see a big difference in this area over the years.

  • Lindabator


  • Lindabator

    He’s just trolling – he doesn’t want to hear the facts from someone who knows them, like you or I, but is quick to make a nasty comment when educated otherwise. Not worth our time.

  • Carver Clark Farrow


    Help me out. I don’t understand. Whether you check in for your flight or not, the seat is held until around T-10. The seat is not available for sale (notwithstanding overselling). So how does checking in affect the airline one way or the other.

    The difference between cancelling and not cancelling is obvious, but checking in or not checking in seems to have the same outcome.

  • Lindabator

    But if 10 people checkin who CLEARLY know they are not going, they are holding those spots at the gate – far too late at that time to open all those seats if needed – not even caring what it does to the airlines, it can penalize a customer – if you could have gone on the earlier nonstop in the winter, and now you are on a connecting flight instead, because someone blocked all those seats – they DO know when 20 have booked but NOT checked in, and will keep a close eye on that flight, offering at least the option to stand by.

  • hawaii girl

    As someone who worked for a major International airline, I can tell you, those change fees are ridiculous. All it takes is a couple of keystrokes to move someone from one flight to another within the same fare class or below. And seriously, paying $125 to call an airline call center to change a ticket? RIDICULOUS.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    But that’s what I’m not understanding. Regardless of check-in, don’t the seats open at the same time?

  • sofar

    I’ve found that Frontier does this. As much as I dislike them as an airline, it made my heart glad to see them forcing people to put fit their giant bags in the little test box — and when they didn’t fit, charging them the checked bag fee at the gate. They count all your personal items, too. As someone who packs light and can get a week’s worth of clothes in a tiny roller suitcase (that is actually smaller than carry-on specifications), it drives me nuts when there’s no room for my bag — and people are stuffing their giant bags in sideways, taking up a space that would fit three of my bags.

  • Travelnut

    United Airlines changes MY flights at least twice every time I fly with them, and they could care less about any trouble it causes for me. From now on, every time they screw with my flight schedule, I’m sending THEM a bill for $200. It’s only fair!

  • Trueman1

    Everything is based on higher profits and greedy endeavors for many of the other carriers. Nickle dime here and there. Charge $ 100 for carry on bags. Change your ticket; that will be $ 200, sucker. I think the only force strong enough to really push airline executives to stand down on the fees is another recession. Another recession forces vacation goers to take a staycation, companies trim back on business travel, and airlines can’t fill their seats. To fill them up, they may be forced to lower or eliminate the fees altogether. Every company has a right to earn a profit, but should do so without intimidating customers.

  • Hanope

    Don’t forget those TPS reports!

  • SAS

    The lack of change fees is another reason why Southwest is my preferred airline. I got hit with expensive change fees on Alaska Airlines once. Of course, Southwest does not fly to Alaska.

  • plawler

    That’s very easy to say. In practice, loading a plane in a timely manner makes it very difficult to accomplish. It’s pretty obvious on the plane when the bag doesn’t fit. It’s much harder to tell a belligerant passenger holding up the line at the gate that the bag won’t fit. Having to measure every suspect bag at the gate would unacceptably delay boarding. Not to mention the problem is often not the dimensions but the sheer number of “barely legal” bags.

  • dwasifar karalahishipoor

    “Are airline fees reasonable?” Well, duh. If they were reasonable, people would pay them instead of walking away from paid reservations.

  • dave3029

    With the published time requirements for both domestic and international flights, all passengers are required to be at their gates well in advance of loading and departure. Process change to make announcements that any bags not meeting the carry-on requirements will not be allowed on the plane would allow anyone the opportunity to use the size tester at the gate well in advance of boarding. Gate agents could use color-coded tags (changed with each flight to defeat possible cheaters) to tag bags they’ve verified as “passed”. Come time to board, any bag not tagged that looks like it won’t fit, the passenger is pulled aside to test at that point. No arguments – – the bag passes or it doesn’t. Oversize bags get stuffed in with the checked bags, they do not get on as carry-on. Any arguments, the passenger is pulled for interfering with the crew, just like on the plane. It would only take a few times for this to happen and everyone will learn to obey the rules… as they should.

  • whatexit

    NO WAY….The last thing air travelers need is government getting involved. This is a sure fire way to make things WORSE..
    Besides, the airline industry and commercial aviation in general is already heavily regulated. Let’s not let that genie out of the bottle!

  • whatexit

    Typically, most carriers permit one carry on and one personal item such as a purse or computer bag.
    With fees climbing to cruising altitude, passengers are cheating big time. The latest thing is the back pack.
    I have seen people with one carry bag, one back pack and another ‘personal item. In one case I witnessed a fellow passenger with the following. Big winter coat. Back pack. Duffle bag. And what looked like a computer bag. I was looking at this dolt as he was removing the coat and stuffing it into the overhead while keeping others from getting to their seats. He happened to open the “computer bag” and in it appeared to be more clothing. In my view, this is a carry on luggage bag. He was over the limit. He should be charged to check those items. This schmuck crammed all his crap and when I got to my bag for deplaning, it looked like it had been in a 6 ton press. I sneered at this moron. He looked at me like I was the bad guy. I kind of moved him aside, shoved his crap out of my way and on my out, made sure I shouldered him to show my displeasure.
    As far as I am concerned the carry on count should be TWO. It should not matter if the bag in carried in one’s hand or worn on the back. It’s a bag and that’s that..
    The other thing is winter travel. I have seen people wearing TWO winter coats. Of course before they seat themselves they lose the coats and stuff them into the over head bin leaving no room for anyone else’s stuff.
    My rule, if it’s clothing you wore while boarding, You wear it during the flight. If you choose to remove the item, it counts toward your carry on count. If you don’t wear it, you pay up.

  • whatexit

    Carriers fuel aircraft based on the number of passengers expected to fly on a particular flight. While it may seem insignificant when 150 to 175 lbs does not show up, it costs the carrier more in fuel because the plane is filled to the amount needed to carry the anticipated weight. If there are fewer people on board, there is no need for the fuel.
    Of course this is pure speculation on my part. IMO it does have logic though

  • Bill___A

    I know the change fees don’t make it economical, but if I am not going to fly, I’ve always (so far) shown the courtesy of letting them know. It isn’t a money thing, it is more of a consideration thing. Despite the complaining I do here, I make an effort to be a good passenger and so far, the airlines haven’t treated me all that badly.
    I do get annoyed by some things, but generally I keep it to myself whilst on the plane.

  • Mel65

    “It’s an issue for us,” says Marianne Lindsey, a spokeswoman for the airline. “When we experience no-shows, it results in unused seats, which translates to lost revenue.”
    Well, that’s not true in the instances above, because they got the $ for the seats. They didn’t get DOUBLE revenue, which no doubt they’d have preferred, but they aren’t operating that flight at a loss due to the no-show.
    I’m a govt. contractor and I often fly on short notice and I’ve walked away from tickets when it’s just not fiscally responsible to pay a change fee and fare difference that’s far more than buying a one way ticket on a competing flight because plans were OBE. I once spent over an hour on the phone w/ an airline trying to understand how the return portion of a $700 flight was “worth” only $134, and of course the change fee was $150. Airline math should be offered as an elective in college so that consumers can understand what they’re paying for!

  • bodega3

    If you are a noshow and then reuse your fare on another flight, then yes, that seat was lost revenue. Pretty simple math. As for your return flight cost, that will depend on the fare for your return flight. It isn’t always half of the outbound flight. The fare basis is how this is all calculated and your return sounds like it was different than the outbound. Ticket exchanges are a PITA for both sides!

  • jet2x2

    I experienced this with Frontier recently and it did not delay boarding. They did it before boarding and well before boarding time. If your boarding pass didn’t have a mark on it from them checking the bag, you had to step out of line and check the bag. No one tried to board with a bag that was too big. The only people who were irritated were the ones who didn’t hear the 3 announcements asking people to come up with their bags before boarding. Interestingly they did not do this on the return flight.

  • Helio

    I have exactly the same question!

  • Mel65

    Hmmm not sure what you mean by “reuse my fare on another flight”. What I do, if the amount they would credit me is less than the change fee, is let them keep the fare difference and find myself another flight that is less than the cost of the change fee plus fare difference. Now if that isn’t possible, of course I just suck it up and change my original ticket. But I’ve found one ways that were $199 when the change fee plus rate difference was $450 and it simply wasn’t worth it. So, they can “keep” the remaining dollars of my unused ticket. Or do you mean if I don’t alert them so they can sell the seat to someone else? Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t…frankly, it depends on how helpful they were when I called/talked to the agent :)

  • bodega3

    Most APEX domestic fares require you to notify the carrier prior to departure or you risk forfeiting your fare for reuse. Also, a carrier like USAIR, no longer allows you to use the old fare for the change fee and then do an add collect for the difference. So if you have $199 in unused fare (taxes, fees and surcharges are not a part of the fare), you apply the $199 to a new ticket and if that new ticket is less than $199 you don’t get a residual, then you pay the change fee, plus taxes, fees and surcharges. I have clients not bother, and start anew, but most still reuse the first ticket again within their ticketing and travel deadlines.

  • bayareascott

    That screws other customers on standby, not the airline.

  • Marcin Jeske

    I usually have two carry-ons: a roll-aboard that exactly fits, wheels-to-the-back, in pretty much every overhead bin except for those tiny commuter jets, and a backpack (“the personal item”) which stores my computer and is stuffed with a bunch of other stuff.

    I sometimes feel I get dirty looks from people who share your opinion… but that’s only because you imagine me stuffing both in the overhead bins, and then maybe adding in some coats as well. The truth is that I am respectful of other passengers stowage needs… my backpack always goes under the seat in front of me (a very tight fit) unless the overheads are very empty or I am seated at a bulkhead, exit row, or where the underseat space is limited by something.

    Winter coats are blankets or pillows, unless again the overheads have plenty of space… or once in flight, I find an appropriate space among other baggage. My carry-ons often contain things that are not allowed in checked baggage anyway, like electronics. I hope even the hardliners admit that everyone can claim their approx. 14in portion of an overhead.

    As an aside, it is remarkable how horribly inefficiently people manage to position their bags in the overhead when space is at a premium. Everything from placing wheeled roll-aboards lengthwise, when they have been painstakingly designed to fit wheels first, to deciding coats need their own space rather than being on top of other luggage.

    Some interesting dynamics come into play when on small commuter flights where full-size carry-ons need to be gate checked. I have flown on Alaska’s “puddle-jumpers”, mostly the hourly Portland-Seattle shuttle, which don’t use jetways, board on the tarmac, and have a cart by the plane to leave your big carry-on. I had packed my large carry-on so that some essentials like batteries and electronics, which have to be carry-on, were in a small bag that I could easily take out before putting my bag on the cart. As I stood in line at the gate, I removed the small bag so I could board the plane quickly. Seconds later, the agent checking my boarding pass noted that I now had three items (backpack, small bag, big carry-on), and she would have to check one (for a fee! – even as she help my boarding pass which showed I had free checked bags). I said I had to remove the small bag from the big bag, and she said that’s fine as long as I do it behind her… she could not let me through with three items. So I put it back in my bag, walked passed her, and took it out again. Because rules are rules!

    Which is a long way of saying… while I appreciate that good rules are the foundation of a just and efficient society (and airplane journey), I am dismayed by people who seem to want stringent and excessive enforcement of rules for their own sake, without regard to the actual purpose, which is to provide everyone a safe, comfortable, and affordable travel service.

  • Marcin Jeske

    I don’t think so… if you don’t check-in by the check-in time (usually 30-40 minutes prior to departure), you lose your seat. But if you are checked in, you have until roughly 10 minuted prior to departure to show up. That gives airlines an extra 20-30 minute window to re-use the seat.

    While I am just as annoyed as everyone else with airline change policies, the “revenge tactics” described in this post are likely most harmful to other passengers.

    For airlines, it just means some extra cost programming their systems to anticipate no-shows (extra cost passed on to us in ticket prices).

    For passengers, if you have ever been desperate to get home to a loved one or to an important meeting, and hoping a seat might open up on the next flight out, or you have been bumped from a flight because the airline computers miscalculated (or calculated that your “compensation” is worth the price paid for that last walk-up ticket they sold)… you are the losers in this game of revenge.

    If passengers truly escalate this… I can only guess that airlines will retaliate (if they haven’t already) by tracking no-shows and treating them like those who take advantage of hidden city fares to get cheaper flights to hub airports. This isn’t a battle we can win, except to patronize those airlines who are most reasonable about changes. (Cancellation fees as a percentage of fare?)

  • Marcin Jeske

    I understand why you think so… and it makes sense not to waste your time when you get no benefit from it.

    But don’t think you are really hurting the airline. Chances are, they already have sold your seat (that’s what overbooking is) because they predicted that you (or some other passenger, they don’t care, you all look the same to the airline) would no-show.

    Your decision to cancel or not most likely affects another traveler… they have to make a last minute flight…

    … if you cancel, they can book the seat and be certain to fly.
    … if you hold the ticket, they are the ones standing by the gate, stressed out hoping that a seat will open up.

    Either way, the airline gets your money. The airline get their money. The airlines gets all our money. It’s like the prisoners’ dilemma, cooperate or everyone loses (except the airline), but eventually, the airline too, as flying descends further into a chaotic morass of inconvenience, stress, and fees.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    That makes sense. So really, all it’s doing is screwing the passengers. I’m guessing that most of the folks waiting around to get one of those seats are passengers standby passengers, not new purchases (e.g how would they get past security). You’ve confirmed that this is a truly ill-advised strategy

  • In India the change fee is typically Rs. 1,500 which is about $25.00 PLUS the difference in air-fare i.e. what is the lowest fare available on the new flight at the time of making the change. Typically 30 day advance fares are between $50 to $75 and this normally doubles when within 7 days of the flight i.e. to about $100 to $150 and on some busy periods can even triple within 72 hours of the flight.

    So while a typical change costs totally about $75 to $100, because the airline gives the passenger a credit value to the old ticket they ensure that they earn a decent change fee, but still retain the customer and changing is still cheaper than buying a new ticket, and hence no deliberate no-shows as well.

    May be the US carriers can take a leaf out of this.

  • Debbie_K

    How is this possible — If I Paid for a seat on Flight 1 and Paid for a seat on flight 2 — they collected revenue for both seats whether I actually sit in them or not….

    “When we experience no-shows, it results in unused seats, which translates to lost revenue.”

  • bodega3

    Because the fare paid, as long as you cancel prior to departure on the first segment, is reusable. So therefore, that first booking many not get resold and the next flight you take you use the fare from the first ticket to buy it.

  • Blamona

    Every flight I’ve taken lately has a long standby waiting list for each plane, so they fill your seat if not at the gate 10 minutes prior even if you checked in. Their system must work for them, because I’ve seen very few empty seats on most of my flights (regardless where I go)

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