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Are airline bump lists really random?

I’m sure you’ve heard about the nightmare week United Airlines is having, at least from a PR standpoint. It all began on Sunday with an overbooked flight leaving from Chicago. Four passengers who were already on the plane were asked to get off so four airline employees could take their seats.

This resulted in one of the selected passengers being dragged off by security without his consent. Video of the incident went viral and caused an uproar on social media. United Airlines claims that the passengers were selected randomly to be removed from the flight, but is that true?

Were passengers booted from flight randomly selected?

Questions are mounting. Was the United Airlines passenger who got dragged off the plane really randomly selected by a computer?

Passengers being randomly selected is actually hard to believe. True randomness is very difficult to create.

All computers run programs based on algorithms that were written by human beings. And that’s the key. Humans wrote the computer code.

When a flight is overbooked, airline bump-list software takes into account several factors:

  • When the customer bought the ticket
  • What time the passenger checked into the flight
  • How much did the ticket cost
  • How often the traveler flies with the airline
  • Where the customer is seated

Those are some of the deciding factors of which passengers are selected. Does that sound random to you?

Computers do not make random decisions. At the end of the day, who stayed and who got booted from the flight was decided by humans at the gate.

The incident on Sunday should have been handled better by United. For one, passengers should not have been allowed to board the plane before deciding to kick people off. If they would have followed that procedure, this might not have escalated to the firestorm that we’re seeing now.

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