Know Your Passenger Rights When Bumped from a Flight

We’ve all seen the recent videos from the not-so-friendly skies, incidents of air passengers being bullied in the name of airline rules and efficiency. Shocking, yes, but fortunately the exception – most passengers comply with such rules, albeit unhappily, when involuntarily removed from a flight.

And while it would seem that airlines hold all the cards, imposing their will when the need arises, you as a flyer and ticket holder have rights as well. The Department of Transportation backs up those rights, and provides air passengers with a list detailing all the rights they’re entitled to.

In the case of oversold flights, which airlines are allowed to do, they’re required to first ask for volunteers to give up their seats, and compensate them accordingly. If they run out of volunteers, airlines then use a computer algorithm to determine which unlucky passengers will get the boot. That algorithm typically looks more favorably upon passengers traveling with children, or those with a connecting flight at the destination. In other words, if you’re flying direct, alone, and in coach, your chances of getting bumped go up.

If you find yourself holding the short straw in that loser lottery, the first right you should flex is to request a written statement that both describes your passenger rights and explains how the airline decides who gets on that overbooked flight and who doesn’t. The DOT requires this of airlines.

The carrier should do all it can to quickly put you on another flight to your final destination. If they can get you there within an hour of your originally scheduled arrival time, they’re not required to compensate you. If the flight arrives between one and two hours later (or one and four hours for international flights), you’re entitled to 200% of your one-way fare to your final destination, or maximum $675.

Anything later than two hours, four hours internationally, or the airline can’t “re-accommodate” you at all, you should get 400% of your one-way fare, up to a maximum of $1,350. Also, if you paid for any optional services, such as a roomier seat or checked luggage, the airline has to provide that same service on your new flight or refund you the amount.

And remember, keep the ticket for your original flight to use on another flight at a later date, or to request an “involuntary refund” for the full amount. Those compensation listed above are payment for the inconvenience of getting bumped.

Besides what the airline is required to do, there’s another phrase that applies here: the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Politely let the gate or counter agent know your displeasure, and how much you’re being inconvenienced by being bumped. If alternate flight with the carrier don’t appear, ask the agent to search other airlines, or offer to fly out of a neighboring airport (with the airline springing for ground transportation). You can also suggest other perks to sweeten the deal, such as access to their club lounge, additional meal vouchers, or extra miles added to your frequent flyer account.

Knowing your rights as a passenger and what you’re entitled can make the experience of getting bumped a little easier to take.

John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is an award-winning journalist, travel writer and blogger based in San Jose, California. He has covered the meetings and hospitality industry extensively since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @jcax01

Leave a Comment