Your Chances of Getting Bumped (and Dating Supermodels)

Flying today can lead to lost luggage and other mishaps, but what are the odds?

Dec. 2, 2009 — -- Yes, I will get to the part about the supermodels shortly, but first, let's talk flying -- and specifically, your odds of getting bumped from a plane.

In a word, the chances of this happening are "slim." But it varies from airline to airline, and thanks to a wonderful Web site called "Book of Odds" I can tell you which carriers are the best and worst when it comes to bumping, based on 2008 data.

You know what bumping is: that ugly event that occasionally occurs when your airline oversells its seats to avoid the no-shows. Usually, gate agents start out asking for volunteers who get a sweetener such as a $100 voucher (or more) for future travel; if that doesn't work, the bumping becomes "involuntary." In other words, you're the poor sap who gets kicked off the flight.

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It is rare, though -- the chances it'll happen to you involuntarily are about 1 in 10,040 (though the chances of getting bumped when you combine voluntarily and involuntarily drop to 1 in 872). Still, it pays to know your rights: involuntary bumpees now get paid as much as $800 for the inconvenience.

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But it is an inconvenience, so you might want to think twice when making reservations for flights operated by Comair, Pinnacle and Atlantic Southeast -- those airlines offer you the best chance of being involuntarily bumped, according to the Book of Odds. The airlines least likely to bump against your will? JetBlue, Hawaiian and AirTran. Again, this is based on the 2008 data. Perhaps some have improved and some have slacked off since then.

Now let's turn to lost luggage: ever wonder where it goes? Some of it no doubt disappears down the same black hole that dryer socks gravitate to, but the good news is, 98 percent of all lost luggage is eventually returned to its owners.

Oddly enough, some passengers can't be bothered with their once-lost luggage; when airlines attempt reunification, these passengers essentially say, thanks but no thanks. One carrier's representative told me in such cases they sell these "leftover" bags to a vendor, who may in turn sell them to an unusual store called the "Unclaimed Baggage Center" of Scottsboro, Ala.

I'm sure the center takes in its share of dirty laundry, but the bags sometimes contain the occasional gem, and I mean that literally: among the items unclaimed baggage employees have found were a 40-carat emerald as well as a full suit of armor (no, I can't picture stuffing armor in my suitcase, either).

What are your chances you'll lose your bag? According to U.S. Department of Transportation figures, 1 in 205.6 passengers filed "mishandled baggage" reports with U.S. airlines in 2008. But, you have to remember, that was the year of new baggage fees; that eventually prompted more passengers to switch to carry-ons, with the result that lost bag statistics have been improving.

Now, how about the odds of your flight being delayed? It's a concern, what with winter on its way, and December is generally the worst month for delayed flights. The Book of Odds says 1 in 3.23 flights are typically delayed in December, probably because of the double whammy of bad weather and holiday-packed planes.

How about really long delays -- those memorable trapped-on-the-tarmac incidents? Those are rarer, but they still happen, and more often than you'd think. I took a look at government statistics from the past several months; here are the number of flights that were delayed on the tarmac longer than four hours:

Sept. 2009 - 1 flight

Aug. 2009 - 6 flights

July 2009 - 29 flights

June 2009 - 42 flights

May 2009 - 8 flights

April 2009 - 5 flights

I guess it's not really so terrible when you consider that, on average, there are about 28,000 commercial flights in the skies over the U.S. each day -- but if you're trapped on one of these tarmac hell planes, who cares how rare it is?

It's like the passengers who thought they were taking a direct flight from Houston to Minneapolis; their odds of winding up in the airspace over Wisconsin were pretty low – unless, of course, their pilots were fooling around with personal laptops (I'll bet that won't happen again).

But back to "trapped" passengers: it seems the Department of Transportation has got your back: it recently levied record breaking fines totalling $175,000 over an incident where passengers were stuck overnight on a plane for a nearly six hours. Sadly, the money won't be divvied up among the passengers (or the DOT for that matter) -- it will go directly into the U.S. Treasury.

Say, didn't I mention something about supermodels?

Indeed I did, and your chances of dating one, according to the Book of Odds are about 1 in 178,110. However, those odds improve if you live in New York or Los Angeles, make a lot of money, and are very handsome. It also helps if you're a quarterback who happens to have a few of those Super Bowl championship rings.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.

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