You are patiently sitting at your gate, waiting to board your next flight, when you hear it. That the dreaded gate announcement that can put many a traveler on edge:
Attention Passengers on Flight #111. We are in an overbooked situation. Are there any volunteers who are willing give up your seat? We are offering a $200 travel voucher.
Oh No! Your flight’s been overbooked and somebody’s about to be bumped! And as you watch the gate, it appears that nobody is stepping forward. Fifteen minutes later, your fears are confirmed with the next gate announcement:
Attention Passengers on Flight #111. We remain overbooked. We will now choose who will not be boarding this flight.
Will Mr. You’ve-Been-Bumped please see the gate agent?
Have you had the unpleasant experience of waiting to hear whose name is called, hoping it isn’t yours? Do you know your rights if you are the unlucky passenger who is involuntarily bumped off an overbooked flight?
A Passenger’s Rights When Involuntarily Bumped
Overbooked flights happens, and when they do, airlines will offer some sweet deals to entice passengers to voluntarily give up their seats.
But what about the flights where not enough, or nobody volunteers? In these situations, the airlines get to choose who will not be boarding that plane. Thankfully it doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, passengers who are involuntarily bumped off their flight are entitled to monetary compensation.
That’s right! If you are involuntarily bumped from your flight, the airline must compensate you. In fact, it’s mandated by the Department Of Transportation. The amount of compensation will depend upon how quickly the airlines can get you to your destination on an alternate flight.
Here’s how it breaks down. When compared with your original arrival time, if the arrival time of your alternate flight is:
Less than an hour later – No compensation required.
One to two hours later (four for international flights) – Compensation of 2x the one way fare, up to a maximum of $650.
More than two hours later (more than four for international)– Compensation of 4x the one way fare, up to a maximum of $1300.
The airline should immediately offer you compensation via cash (in form of a check) or voucher as well as a written explanation of your rights. It’s your choice, not the airlines, whether you receive a cash payout or a travel voucher. Before choosing the voucher option, make sure you check if there are any restrictions of use!
To qualify for compensation in an involuntary bump, you will need to have a confirmed ticket on the oversold flight and have checked in within the airline’s check-in deadline.
Exceptions to the denied boarding compensation rule: Flights with seating capacity less than sixty passengers, and charter flights.
How Does An Airline Choose Passengers To Bump?
That, the airlines won’t tell you. But, there are a few factors that appear to play into who will be chosen to be involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight:
- Your airline Frequent Flyer status.
- The price you paid for the ticket.
- The type of ticket class booked.
- Whether or not you were assigned seats before checking in.
- The time you check into the airport on the day of flight.
Traveler’s Tip – Traveling with the family in an oversold situation? As soon as the announcement is made, let the gate agents know who is traveling with you. Most airlines will try to not split up families. This is especially important when you might be flying on two different reservations, as we were in a recent oversold situation.
Tips To Minimize The Risk of Involuntary Bumps
Although the DOT controls how to compensate for an involuntary bump, the airlines are in full charge of who will get the boot. However, there are factors that can reduce the risk of your name ending up on the bump list:
- When initially booking your flight, get seat assignments.
- Always double check your airline reservations in the weeks prior to boarding. Check your seat assignments.
- One week before departure, check how full the flight is. If less than five seats are open, it has the potential of an oversold situation. Assume the worst, and check in earlier rather than later.
- Always check in as soon as the airlines will allow it.
- Arrive at the airport within the required window.
These tips won’t guarantee your name from being called, but they can decrease the odds.
Traveler’s Tip – The gate agent is in control here, so don’t loose your cool, or you may find yourself cooling your heels waiting for the next flight!
Should You Take That Voluntary Bump Offer?
Maybe. Maybe not! The Department of Transportation does not tightly control how airlines compensate passengers who accept voluntary bumps, giving the airlines a lot of room to negotiate.
Before you agree to voluntarily giving up your seat on an oversold flight, you might first want to ask the following questions:
- When will the alternate flight depart?
- Do you have a confirmed seat on the alternate flight, or will you be flying stand-by?
- What are the restrictions, if any, of the travel voucher you’ve been offered? Are there black out or expiration dates?
- Can you get additional perks such as meal vouchers?
- Will you be compensated for a hotel if the delay extends overnight?
A few thoughts to consider: Sometimes those travel vouchers are so limited, it’s just not worth taking the bump.
Are you traveling during a very busy holiday time? Open seat capacity can be very limited at this time and there is a chance that you might not get another flight out until the next day. Or worse!
Lastly, think long and hard before accepting a Standby ticket instead of a Confirmed Seat ticket. You could get stuck for longer than expected, especially around a holiday.
Resources For Airline Passenger Rights
Learn more about airline passenger rights and the regulations that govern how an airline must proceed with involuntary bumping of passengers on overbooked flights:
- US Department of Transportation Expands Airline Passenger Protections
- Aviation Consumer Protection
- Fly-Rights: A Consumer Guide To Air Travel
- 14 CFR 250.8, Denied Boarding Compensation
Know your rights before your next flight takes off!
Have you been booked on an oversold flight? Have you ever been involuntarily bumped? Chosen to take a voluntary bump? Do you have any tips to share? Let us know how it all worked out in the Comments section.
Images from Thee Erin and Hobvias Sudoneighm, via Flickr, Antowonw via Wikipedia Commons, and EvaProkop, via Flickr.