You arrive at the airport with your boarding pass in hand, but prior to boarding, you are informed that there are no more seats available on the flight. You have just been involuntarily bumped from your flight. Frustrating, right?
A question many travelers ask is why does this happen? Airlines frequently overbook flights based on their estimate of no-shows or cancellations in order to reduce the risk of losing revenue. There are fewer empty seats on flights so the chances of getting bumped are on the rise.
When the airline decides to give your seat to another passenger, you are involuntarily bumped. Voluntary bumping occurs when the airline makes an announcement that it is looking for volunteers who are willing to take a later flight. Passengers that agree to this are voluntarily bumped.
If you are involuntarily bumped, you can expect compensation, and it can be substantial.
Here’s What You Can Expect:
If you are bumped from your flight (involuntary bumping) because it is overbooked, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires the airline to give you a written statement describing your rights. You are entitled to compensation. The airline will either offer you a voucher or payment in the form of a check or cash. The amount depends on the one-way fare of your original ticket. Choose cash rather than a voucher.
Frequent flyers of the airline are less likely to get bumped from their seats.
If you volunteer to get bumped, the DOT rules for compensation do not apply. Ask the airline when your next scheduled flight will be and if you will have a seat assignment. If it puts you on the next flight as a standby, you could end up stranded again. If there are no flights available until the next day, request that the airline provide you with meals, transportation, and a hotel room. In addition, ask what other compensation will be offered — such as a free flight at a later date. Check if there is an expiration date, blackout dates, or any other restrictions. Feel free to negotiate with the airlines. You are doing them a favor.
DOT Compensation Requirements for Involuntary Bumping:
If the new flight set up by the airline arrives one to two hours after your original arrival time, you must be paid an amount equal to 200% of your one-way ticket fare, with a maximum of $675.
If the flight arrives more than two hours later than your original flight, or if the airline does not make new travel arrangements for you, you are entitled to be paid 400% of your one-way ticket fare, with a maximum of $1350.
Any extra services you paid for on the original flight (such as a premium seat, baggage, etc.) must be refunded to you as well. There are some exceptions to these rules.
You can benefit from a disappointing situation by knowing what you are entitled to and then kindly negotiating with the airline.
For more travel insight, check out my book:
Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad
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