We sold more plane tickets than we have places on a plane… How to survive a “standby”.

My body rebelled on me the minute I found myself in a hotel room. I put my suitcase on the bed and sat nearby. I did not really know why I was so stressed, since I was taken care by incredibly kind lady at the airport. I guess it was because I firmly believed I will be sleeping tonight in my own bed and in the morning I will be preparing myself to go to work. But there you go, life again proved to be full of surprises. My flight back home was overbooked and since I did not check online I found myself between the passengers for whom there was no seats available.

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Saying goodbye to Bologna minutes before I found out that I am not flying tonight…

The traveling is as much about enjoying new things, discovering places and culture as about gaining new experience and learning about yourself. My sister and I had a fantastic time in Bologna and Venice, trying to make the most of every minute, enjoying great sunny weather and discovering two incredibly beautiful and charming towns. After four days of intensive sightseeing we both were looking forward to coming back home. Don’t get me wrong here – if we could stay longer we would, but that was not a plan. I suppose this is why my body and my mind suddenly decided to get nervous and unbelievably stressed the second all was sorted and I knew I will be flying home the next day in the afternoon.  

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The entrance of the hotel I was staying waiting for my flight next day

It is a common practice for the airlines to overbook the flights. The reason behind it is rather simple and it’s coming down to the statistics – the airline analyses historical data to justify if the overselling can be done on a particular flight. They look into travellers behaviours and estimate the number of people who will not show up at the gate. People can be late and they will not get on the flight or they just will not show up all together. It’s a game airlines are playing all the time.

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Nice lobby in the hotel

With my flight everyone showed up. So the great analysis performed by airline did not really work this time. I was quite surprised that the airline decided to do that on the last available flight on the Monday evening, May Bank Holiday in the UK, to London. So many people were traveling on a long weekend, starting their journey on Friday, hoping to be back home on Monday. Just like me.  

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Some wine
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Evening meal

I was one between five other people, missing the seat on the plane. At first I did not really understand what the “stand by” means. I asked and found out that I am in a queue for a space with others unfortunate travellers. My first reaction was laughing. My sister was still at the airport, waiting to check her luggage and had no idea what was happening with me. I was told to come back within 15 minutes to find out my options. When I told my sister Ania what is going on, she was not sure how to react to that. Something like that has never happen to any of us. I was sure there will be a solution. We even started to wonder if she is going to get on her plane, so we could stay one night longer in Bologna, but since she was flying to Berlin her flight was not overpopulated and she got home the same evening.

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My room

What can happen from the airline point of view? They will present the options to the unfortunate passengers, they will try to find suitable flight, even if this means that someone has to fly with a change at another airport, they will ask for a possibility to staying overnight. The last resource would be asking different airline to take their passenger. All these options were presented to me, including car drive from Bologna to Verona and catching flight from there to London Gatwick (arrive at Gatwick about 1 o’clock at night), flying to Frankfurt and catching the flight from there (Gatwick again and 1 o’clock again) or staying overnight in the nearby hotel and catching the flight next day. I did not want to drag my husband from our bed in the middle of the night to pick me up from Gatwick, since he was working the next day, so I decided to stay overnight. 

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Breakfast next day, after sleepless night.
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Breakfast room

In situations like that the airline must compensate the passenger in case of changing the original flight date, time, and destination. I was due to arrive at London Heathrow on 4 May 2015 at 8 o’clock in the evening, so my husband could pick me up easily and we both could catch up on enough sleep to be able to go to work the next day. I could not accept arriving at Gatwick late at night, drag Marcin out of bed to collect me and then go to work. I have decided to stay overnight and fly next day, in the afternoon, so I do not need to spend the whole day sitting and waiting for Marcin. It is rather complicated to get from Heathrow to our home without a car, not mentioning any other London airport.

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Bed which was comfy but I could not sleep

I was flying with British Airways – and there is nothing bad I could say about them, how they acted towards me and how they took care of me. I was given a nice voucher for any flight with them (need to redeem it with a year), a drive in a posh black Mercedes to and from the hotel, evening meal, and breakfast. I was put in a nice 4 stars hotel near the airport, in a huge room with big bed and with all I really needed for the night. But regardless my body and mind decided they do not like it one bit.

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Taking a relaxing bath did not help

I spent a sleepless night, tossing in bed, watching MTV and trying to play silly games on my tablet. I was exhausted with stress and I was hardly coping with not being at home. I think I felt incredible lonely, since I do not travel alone normally. I missed my husband and my bed. Now I know all this was ridicules and absolutely not needed, but that was the reality at the time.  I think I suddenly discovered I lost control over things, that something was not going in accordance with my own plan and I had problem accepting that. It was a strange occurrence to me, since I am not usually bothered if something is changing, or if I do not get what I want – of course, I am disappointed at first, but then I am able to move on, given the time to come to terms with the changes.

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View in the morning from hotel balcony

If I ever decide to travel alone, I am sure I will be feeling differently, because I will be the one who made the choice I am happy with. At that time I could not understand why I couldn’t sleep and felt almost physically ill. I had nightmares about flight crashes even though I am not scared of flying. I was absolutely fine next morning, looking forward to breakfast and my flight finally taking me home.

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I am going home!
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Welcome Heathrow!

I guess I was lucky for two reasons – I was given an opportunity to gain a new experience and I learnt from it. I did not like it one bit, especially at night, but now I do not think I would react like I did if anything similar ever happen to me. And let’s not forget – I have a nice voucher which will allow me to take my husband for another adventure!

Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport

Heathrow Airport

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2 thoughts on “We sold more plane tickets than we have places on a plane… How to survive a “standby”.”

  1. Hi
    This post Was so interesting! It has never happened To me so I Didnt know how the airlines will act on these cases, the hotel you were looks great and it seems that they did look after the passengers well, my problem is at Work, it would be a big problem for Work if I don’t show up in the morning, it isnt easy To find me cover so, i will be just so worried for my Job and my responsibilities that I wouldn’t have slept either…
    Nice sharing!
    http://www.travelera.es

    Like

    1. Thanks so much 🙂 Yes, they did take a good take care of all 5 people and if I really needed to be next day I could, so some of the passengers chose to fly the same evening with a change in Frankfurt or from Verona. I had so many mixed feelings – with my work my colleagues can cover, but I do not like letting anyone down. Luckily I was not due to do something really difficult that they could not cover for me.

      Like

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