Ever gotten bumped off a flight?
Chances are pretty high that you have, as overbooking has become standard practice thanks to airlines scrambling to post revenue, and no-shows being a common occurrence.
Luckily, the US Department of Transportation has been tightening requirements on what airlines need to do when overbooking a flight, increasing compensation and requiring airlines to suss out volunteers first.
This means that getting bumped involuntarily is becoming rarer, but it’s always a possibility.
Here’s what you’re entitled to if you get bumped off a flight involuntarily:
A written statement outlining your rights
The US Department Of Transportation requires airlines to give involuntarily bumped passengers a written statement regarding their rights, which also explains how the airline decides who gets bumped and who doesn’t. Some airlines bump those who paid the lowest fares (effectively punishing successful bargain hunters), others those who checked in last. Make sure to ask for yours before leaving the gate so that you have a paper trail.
Cold, hard cash
Bumped travellers should receive either “denied boarding compensation,” in the form of cash or a check, or free tickets and dollar-amount vouchers for future flights. The dollar amount varies, and depends on how much you spent on your ticket and how long your delay is. However, savvy travellers should insist on checks rather than travel vouchers, as the latter is often riddled with stipulations and blackout dates.
However, if the airline re-books you on another flight and your delay is less than an hour, you’re not entitled to any compensation whatsoever. This counts for both domestic and international flights.
If your delay is less than two hours, you’re entitled to double the price of your one-way fare
If the airline re-books you on another flight and you arrive at your domestic destination within two hours (or between one and four hours for international destinations) of your originally scheduled arrival, then you are entitled to 200% of the one-way fare you paid to get to your final destination. That said, there’s a $675 cap.
If your delay is more than two hours or if the airline doesn’t make alternate travel arrangements for you, your compensation doubles again
If the airline doesn’t rebook you or books you on another flight that gets in to your domestic destination two hours after your original arrival time (four hours for international destinations), you are entitled to 400% of your one-way fare, up to $1,350.
Should the airline’s maximum compensation mean that getting bumped will cost you more than you receive from the airline, you can try talking to the airline’s complaint department. If that doesn’t work, you have 30 days to decide whether or not to accept the compensation offered in the first place. If you decide to decline it, you can take the airline to court by outlining the DOT’s denied boarding minimum obligation regulations.
If you didn’t pay for you ticket, you’re still entitled to some money
If you paid for your ticket in award miles or used some other voucher, you’re still entitled to some money — but not a lot. You’ll probably end up getting compensation that’s based on the cheapest ticket anyone on the flight paid for the same class of ticket.
You should get reimbursed for extras you might have paid for, like extra legroom and checked bags
Unless you end up getting the same services on your substitute flight, you should get reimbursed for optional services you paid extra for, like checked baggage and seat selection.
However, there are some exceptions:
Checking in late means that you might have to forfeit compensation
You know how you have a check-in deadline? While some airlines just want you to check in by this time, as the term implies, others want you to be at the departure gate at that time (usually between 30 and 60 minutes prior to your departure on domestic flights, though up to three hours on certain international flights). Missing this somewhat ambiguous deadline can mean losing your right to compensation should you get bumped.
If safety related issues are the reason you got bumped, the airline might not have to pay you
If the airline needs to use a smaller plane for some reason and bumps people as a result of this, they don’t need to pay up. Same goes for getting bumped due to safety-related weight or balance concerns.
International, US bound flights have different rules
Different countries, different laws. International flights heading to the US do not need to abide by these rules, though many of them do so voluntarily.