We have often discussed how airlines have gradually stripped passengers of basic comforts and, more importantly, basic rights. That was evident this week in the Gainesville Regional Airport when an entire plane of passengers was told to get off their flight. Some said that they were told of “mechanical problems” the favorite mantra of airlines canceling flights for any reason, including too many unsold seats. However, passengers were a bit peeved when they looked out the window and saw the University of Florida men’s basketball team get on the plane. It appears that the airline decided to dump the ticketed passengers to fly the Gators to Connecticut for a game against the University of Connecticut.
Delta Connection flight 5059, operated by ExpressJet, was supposed to go to Atlanta. Instead, the airline turned it into a charter flight for the team. Delta insisted that all passengers were “accommodated” but it seems to ignore that fact that these passengers paid to fly on flight 5059 and were delayed in their travels. One missed a funeral. Airlines continue to treat such itineraries as merely aspirational. So long as they get a passenger to a location, they insist that they have no liability or responsibility for the loss of hours, bad alternative seating or hassle. The passenger’s time is legally irrelevant.
Delta admits that the original plane for the team required maintenance so it decided to bump the passengers on the flight. However, this effectively treated the ticketed passengers as less important than the team. There was no sense of obligation or commitment. They were less valuable and were bumped. The last of the passengers on the Sunday flight did not leave until Monday. However, the airlines insisted it fulfilled its contract to get them where they wanted to go.
Airline lobbyists have been uniformly successful in blocking efforts in Congress to guarantee the rights of passengers. Average people remain a captive audience to airlines. I know of no other business that can routinely violate agreements or contracts and remain immune from liability. While passengers contract to fly on particular flights, airlines can treat such flights (and a passenger’s time) as fungible and fluid. Now it appears that a basketball team is an additional cause for “mechanical problems” or cancellations for the least valuable travelers.