Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.


I'll assume you're not (yet) stinking rich.

I'll also assume that occasionally you like a small indulgence, or at least an additional level of comfort when you have to, say, travel a long way.

Once in a while, you'll book yourself into economy plus--or premium economy, as some airlines call it.

It isn't necessarily much of an upgrade, but that extra 1.32 inches of legroom might be the difference between you being able to get your shoes back on or not.

Once in a while, you might even book in business, because it's romantic. Or because you've just gotten divorced.

Sometimes, though, airlines decide that you're not quite worthy.

Even though you've booked in an advanced class, they announce on the day that they're going to send you down to a lower grade.

No, there's nothing you can do about it.

Other than, of course, ululate, kvetch, pout, refuse to buy any of the awful food on board, and threaten never to fly the airline again.

Oh, and you can ask for a refund.

This is where your entertainment begins.

Because you're a decent human being, you'll likely expect that you'll be refunded the difference between the cost of the exalted seat you paid for three weeks ago and the diminished seat that you've been shoveled into--whatever it cost three weeks ago.

But we know that airlines and decency can often be more estranged than boa constrictors and snow.

So they make a different calculation.

They compare the price you paid with the cost of the lesser seat on the day you fly.

Lo meets behold when you realize that plane tickets generally cost more on the day of departure than they do, say, three weeks in advance.

Stunningly, this means that the airline is likely to refund you less money than you actually deserve.

Do they care? You must decide. You might imagine them tittering at their ingenuity.

Travel expert Christopher Elliott describes the case of a downcast passenger involving American Airlines.

The passenger had booked three legs of his trip in first class, but said the airline downgraded him on two of those flights.

Elliott explains that there are times when, say, an economy class ticket on the day of flight can actually cost more than a first-class ticket three weeks before.

Because airlines know how to surge their pricing and, of course, how to overbook.

The passenger's refund, therefore, was far smaller than he'd expected.

Of course, an airline might defend itself by saying that it doesn't necessarily charge you more when it upgrades you--although airlines have tried to put a stop to this level of generosity as much as possible.

If you think being downgraded is rare, it depends what you're comparing it to.

There's quite a healthy Quora thread that describes some of the amusements downgraded passengers have endured.

In many cases, it seems that the passengers had to chase the refunds. There was nothing automatic from the airline.

In recent times, your flymasters have at times displayed quite splendid first-class gall with baggage charges and, well, bags and bags of charges.

Some might find it odd that they wouldn't want to satisfy those who pay more in the first place, in order to encourage them to pay more the next time.

Instead, airlines seem happy to make customers unhappy, in the apparent belief that there will never be enough competition to affect their business.

Oh, and then they make ads telling you to behave better on flights.