Bumped From a Flight? Here’s What You’re Entitled To.
Familiarizing yourself with these airline policies can pay off ... literally
Questionable though it may be, it’s not uncommon for airline passengers to be asked to give up their seats or, worse still, be denied boarding in the event of an oversold flight. This, according to transportation.gov, is ultimately a sales strategy that allows airlines to account for “no shows” or cancellations. In fact, in 2019, per an Air Travel Consumer report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, nearly 130,000 passengers were bumped on U.S. flights between the months of January and March alone, 6,175 of them involuntarily — a 36 percent increase over the same period in 2018.
And while a few unfortunate incidents involving passengers being denied boarding have led to more consumer-friendly policy revisions in recent years, it’s still very much a thing that can happen in 2022.
But what actually happens when more tickets are sold than available seats on an aircraft? And if you are bumped, what exactly are you entitled to? As it turns out, the devil is truly in the details.
Right off the bat, if everyone shows up to a flight in which more tickets were sold than available seats, the first course of action is to call for volunteers. All volunteers are generally offered compensation in the form of money or vouchers for a later flight and — as evidenced by the 2019 Air Travel and Consumer report — many passengers do actually wind up volunteering.
But when there aren’t enough volunteers, the airline can invoke their (totally legal) right to “bump” or involuntarily deny boarding to certain passengers. How those unlucky passengers are determined varies slightly from airline to airline, though the passenger’s check-in time, the fare paid and the passenger’s frequent flyer status are all typically taken into consideration.
That said, if you confirm your reservation, check in and arrive at the departure gate on time, and the airline fails to get you to your destination within one hour of your original arrival time, you’re entitled to compensation. This much, you probably already know.
What you may not know is that there’s no limit to the amount of money or vouchers that the airline is able to offer, meaning it is well within your right to negotiate.
According to TikTok user and lawyer Erika Kullberg, if you find yourself bumped from a flight and are subsequently subject to a 1- to 2-hour delay (or 1 to 4 for international flights), you’re automatically entitled to as much as four times the cost of your fare one-way, even if you’re rebooked. (Though, per transportation.gov, airlines may limit the compensation to $775 if 200% of the one-way fare is higher than $775.) If the delay is two hours or more (or upwards of four hours for an international flight), that figure increases to eight times the cost (but again, they may limit the compensation to $1,550 if 400% of the one-way fare is higher than $1,550).
So, as Kulberg points out in the clip, if you paid $250 one-way for a flight that you’re later bumped from and delayed because of, you may be entitled to as much as $1,000.
Of course, there are a handful of scenarios in which you might be denied boarding in which you likely won’t receive compensation, including an aircraft change, weight and balance restrictions, downgrading, charter flights, small aircrafts and flights departing a foreign location.
Moral of the story? It pays to familiarize yourself with airline policies.
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