Kuwait Is Unhappy That Airlines Are Overbooking Flights

Overbooking flights is a fairly common occurrence in the aviation industry, with most airlines engaging in the practice. While Kuwait’s civil aviation authority in the past has issued a directive against this, some airlines operating services to the country continue to overbook their flights.

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Kuwait Airways is the country’s national carrier and is funded by the state. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Drawing the attention of Kuwait’s DGCA

According to Middle Eastern media outlet Zawya, the Director of Air Transport at Kuwait’s DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) is looking to take action against airlines canceling confirmed reservations. The Director, Abdullah Al-Rajhi, notes that these reservation cancelations result from overbooked flights- which is the practice of selling more tickets than physically exist on the aircraft scheduled to operate the flight.

During this global health crisis, this definition may be altered to consider that countries are limiting the number of weekly arrivals- thus limiting the number of passengers on a flight (regardless of physical seats).

This practice is actually a violation of a previous directive issued by the DGCA and has thus drawn attention from the civil aviation regulator.

“We noticed that many airlines canceled confirmed reservations…This practice is a deviation from the credibility or professionalism on the part of these airlines. The number of seats was specified for all airlines, but some are still booking more than the allowed number of passengers,” -Abdullah Al-Rajhi, Director of Air Transport, Kuwait DGCA

The DGCA notes that it will take action against airlines still engaging in the practice.

Jazeera A320
Jazeera Airways is a Kuwait-based low-cost carrier. Photo: Jazeera Airways

Indeed, any passenger flying to Kuwait who has their confirmed reservation canceled by the airline has the right to submit a formal complaint to the Air Transport Department’s Complaints Division. This complaint must be accompanied by supporting documentation, including the flight reservation and payment receipt. The Air Transport Department does have a Complaints section on its website, although it is currently only available in Arabic.

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Overbooking during the crisis

For many airlines, an overbooked flight is a fairly easy situation to handle (in normal times). If there is space in a higher class, some lucky economy or premium economy passengers will get “bumped up” to the next class. In this case, a problem becomes an opportunity for the airline to show its appreciation to some of its most loyal passengers (as these are the ones who will be selected first for an upgrade).

When there aren’t any more seats available on the aircraft, there are usually enough people willing to give up their seat for “the right price.” This usually takes the form of flight vouchers and hotel accommodation (if the next available flight is the next day).

These forms of compensation typically take place in the hours leading up to the flight. However, it sounds like travelers flying into or out of Kuwait are experiencing reservation cancelations- likely days before their flight. This is likely a result of Kuwait’s arrivals limit, which currently sits at 5,000 per day. This number was increased in late May from the 1,000 arrivals per day previously set in January.

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Overbooking might now be more of an issue with the global health crisis and restrictions on the number of arrivals into a country. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

With travel restrictions constantly shifting, airlines are likely facing higher rates of reservation changes and cancelations. This might see them overbook flights at higher levels- taking highly-calculated bets as they try to fill up the very limited number of seats available on their infrequent flights.

Australians stranded abroad may be most familiar with flight cancelations, with many still stuck outside the country due to the strict number of arrivals the government has imposed. This has led to constant reservation cancelations and public outrage.

The bottom line

Assuming Kuwait’s arrivals limit is a factor for airlines canceling reservations, we can see that it is a difficult spot for carriers to be in. Seats are extremely limited, revenues are already capped, and there will statistically always be a number of passengers that cancel or change their flights (and likely more so during this crisis).

Therefore, it’s difficult for both passengers and airlines, and a situation without an easy answer.

Do you think overbooking should be completely banned? Or do you think airlines need to do it (at least to a small extent) in order to remain in business? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment.