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The Worst Bump Ever

I've spent too much of my life in airplanes, I think. I was an American Airlines Executive Platinum member for some years, which meant that I was flying at least 100,000 actual air miles per year, and I have plenty of miles on a variety of other frequent flier programs. But in all my years, I've never been involuntarily bumped from a flight. When volunteers were needed, they were always to be found -- including me once or twice when the deal looked good enough. So I've never witnessed someone being denied a seat for which they paid cold hard cash. It would seem that when it happens, it can be a very, very bad thing. This is from a column by Joe Brancatelli in USA Today:

Last Christmas Day, a business traveler and his 13-year-old daughter were involved in an overbooking situation with Continental Airlines on a flight between its Newark hub and Colorado. The traveler, Thatcher A. Stone, planned a one-week ski holiday, an especially important event because Stone is divorced, his daughter lives with her mother and his time with his daughter is limited.

According to Stone, he and his daughter checked in, checked their bags and proceeded to the boarding gate. At that point, Continental said there were no seats for them. The airline's only alternative was flights that would have gotten Stone and his daughter to Colorado just a day before they were scheduled to return. Stone refused.

Continental refunded Stone's $2,000 in tickets, but refused to retrieve the checked luggage, which was packed with winter clothes and skiing gear. In fact, it took three days for Stone to get the luggage back, essentially destroying any chance for a holiday skiing trip with his daughter.

Stone was furious with Continental's treatment. He also vowed to get compensation. But Stone is no average flyer. He's a lawyer. An aviation lawyer, in fact. An aviation lawyer who's also a lecturer at the University of Virginia. Stone's course this semester: Airline Industry and Aviation Law.

The small-claims case was a slam dunk, especially since Continental was represented by a customer-service manager. Manhattan Civil Court Judge Diane Lebedeff awarded Stone $3,110, including $1,360 for his non-refundable, prepaid expenses at the Colorado resort; $1,000 for "inconvenience damages;" and $750 for the loss of the use of the contents of the luggage.

The worst part of this story is where Continental refuses to take his bags off the aircraft. In Stone's position, I would have protested being bumped -- politely at first, then less so as time wore on. But at some point, were I convinced that I wasn't going to be allowed on the plane, I would have resigned myself and asked for my bags. I can only imagine my reaction if they refused. I would have demanded to speak with Continental's station manager. If this person, knowing my situation, flat out refused to take off my bags, therefore ruining my chance for any kind of skiing vacation with my daughter, I would have hit the roof. What kind of person would do that -- refuse to hold a plane just long enough to get bags off knowing that doing so was going to absolutely ruin the vacation of a parent and child who had already had their plans completely disrupted?

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