What to Expect When You Get Bumped from Your Flight

You arrive at the airport with your boarding pass in hand, but prior to boarding, you are informed that there are no seats available for you on the flight. You have just been bumped from your flight. Frustrating, right?

A question many travelers ask is why does this happen?  You paid for a seat, so how can the airline say there isn’t one available?  Airlines frequently overbook flights based on an estimation of travelers who will be a no-show or cancel their flight at the last minute. Rather than risking the loss of revenue, the airlines overbook the flights. Flights have fewer empty seats, so the chances of getting bumped from a flight are on the increase.

When the airline does not allow you to board because there are not enough seats, that is considered an involuntary bump. If the airline announces that it is looking for passengers to volunteer to take a later flight, passengers who agree are then voluntarily bumped.

If you are involuntarily bumped, you can expect compensation — and it can be substantial.


Woman Sitting Beside the Airplane Window

Here’s What You Need to Know:

Involuntary Bumping

When a flight is overbooked, the airline will ask for volunteers who are willing to take a later flight. If there are none, the airline will determine what passengers will be denied boarding. This should take place before passengers board the plane.

Airlines are required to follow the regulations as set forth by the Department of Transportation. Passengers who are involuntarily bumped are entitled to cash or check compensation if their rescheduled flight will arrive one or more hours later than their original flight time.

The airline is also required to inform you (in writing) of your rights and provide an explanation of how it determines who gets bumped. The airline should 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.

Passengers with the least expensive seats are oftentimes those chosen to be bumped. Frequent flyers of the airline are less likely to get bumped from their seats.

Voluntary Bumping

When passengers volunteer to get bumped, the airlines are not bound by the above requirements. If you choose to get bumped, 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. If you are given a free flight, check if there is an expiration date, blackout dates, or any other restrictions that could make the free flight unusable. Feel free to negotiate with the airlines. You are doing them a favor.

DOT Requirements: Compensation for Involuntary Bumping

If you are denied boarding and your new flight (set up by the airline) arrives one to two hours after your original arrival time, you are entitled to be paid an amount equal to 200% of your one-way ticket fare (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 (maximum of $1350). For international flights departing from the United States, it is one to four hours or over four hours, respectively. These regulations do not apply to flights in a foreign country.

The airline is also required to reimburse you for any extra services that you paid for on the original flight (such as a premium seat, baggage, etc.). There are some exceptions to these rules.

In regards to your original ticket, if you prefer to make your own arrangements, you have the right to request a full refund in addition to the cash compensation.  According to the DOT, the compensation is “a payment for your inconvenience.” For more information on airline requirements, visit the Department of Transportation.

Even though getting bumped from a flight is frustrating, you can benefit from a disappointing situation by knowing what you are entitled to and negotiating with the airline. There have been situations where airlines have failed to inform passengers about their rights for compensation when they were bumped from a flight. Now you know what to ask for, if this should happen to you.

White and Red Plane

For more travel insight, check out my book,

Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad

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