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Traveler's Edition
  •   4 min read

You’ve bought your tickets, checked in at the airport and arrived at the gate to find yourself being asked to give up your seat as the flight is overbooked. Not the ideal situation for many – but what exactly are your rights when it comes to overbooked flights and bumping? runs through everything you need to know.

Why do airlines do it – and is it legal?

Airlines will often overbook flights to make up for people who fail to show up, in order to fill their empty seats. It’s a common practice, especially on popular routes, and yes – it is legal. After a passenger was forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight in April 2017, however, a number of airlines made changes to their overbooking policies:

  • Southwest announced it woudl no longer overbook flights
  • United increased its maximum compensation for voluntary bumping to $10,000
  • Delta increased its maximum compensation for voluntary bumping to $9,950

Airport departures board

What are my rights?

Voluntary Bumping

> When an airline overbooks a flight and needs to bump passengers, they’re obligated to ask for volunteers to give up their seats. Compensation must be offered in this case.

> Airline staff will ask for volunteers at the gate or at check in: volunteers should be offered a seat on a later flight and compensation. In this case, there’s no set amount of compensation – it’s up to the airline.

> Volunteers should, however, be made aware if they could be bumped involuntarily and the amount of compensation available should this happen.

> If you decide to volunteer to be bumped, there are a few things you might want to take into consideration. Will the airline pay for any accommodation or food while you wait for your next flight? When is the next flight you would be able to catch?

> Depending on your travel needs, volunteering to be bumped could work out for the best. If you’re not in any rush, you could end up essentially being paid (whether in the form of airline vouchers, cash, an upgrade on your next flight…the list goes on!) to travel. However, it’s also important to be aware you could add a significant amount of time onto your trip.

How much compensation am I entitled to?

> In case of voluntary bumping, there’s no set amount of compensation and each airline will have their own set of guidelines.

Airport wait lounge

Involuntary Bumping

> If there are no willing volunteers, airlines can select people to be bumped. Each airline has its own rules and guidelines as to how they select who will be bumped, from those with the lowest fare ticket to those who checked in last.

> If you’re bumped involuntarily, the airline must provide a written statement explaining your rights and their policy for bumping passengers.

> In the case of involuntary bumping, the airline must provide compensation unless:

    • You are provided with alternative transportation which allows you to arrive at your destination within 1 hour of your original time of arrival.
    • You miss the check in deadline for your flight – in this case, it is a possibility that you will have lost your reservation and right to compensation.


How much compensation am I entitled to?

> The compensation provided by the airline for bumping you is not a refund for your flight ticket, but rather a compensatory payment for the disruption to your plans. Therefore, both compensation and alternative transport / a refund for your flight tickets are also required.

> The airline must allow you to keep your original ticket & use it on another flight. Don’t want the airline to arrange your alternative transport? You can ask for an “involuntary refund” for your flight ticket from your original flight.

> It is your right to request a check rather than free tickets / airline vouchers as compensation if you’re bumped involuntarily. If you choose to do so, be aware that once you’ve cashed the check you may not be able to ask for any further compensation.

> Your substitute transportation is scheduled to arrive between 1 – 2 hours after your original arrival time = 200% of your one-way fare, up to $675

> Your substitute transportation is scheduled to arrive over 2 hours after your original arrival time, or the airline doesn’t arrange alternative travel for you = 400% of your one-way fare, up to $1350

> If you booked and paid for additional services, such as seat selection or checked baggage, but don’t receive them on the substitute flight provided, you are entitled to a refund for them.

Money with travel icons

Source: The Department of Transportation. If you’re looking for more info on overbooking and your rights if you’re bumped from your flight, check out their guidlines here.

IMG: Shutterstock

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