It’s important to know your rights in the event you are bumped from a flight. You not only need to be aware of what the U.S. Department of Transportation has deemed as your rights and the airlines’ responsibilities, you need to also ensure that the compensation is adequate and that your rescheduled flight is not going to initiate a costly series of personal dilemmas. Bumping is not illegal, and the reparations provided by the airlines are only loosely regulated by the DOT. But the guidelines in place are there to protect you and being armed with the knowledge of what is entitled to you in the event of a bumped flight before it occurs is a sure way to make certain you are properly compensated and experience minimal disturbance in your travel schedule.
Overbook happens because airlines anticipate that on every flight there will be a few “no-shows” in addition to unoccupied seats. They sell more seats than the plane has in order to maximize their profit per flight and avoid the inevitable likelihood that one or two reserved seats on a high demand flight will go unused. The proactivity of this measure is often undercut, however, by the event of a flight’s anticipated no-shows showing up – and the oversold flight has too many passengers allotted that can be fitted onboard.
The DOT mandates that airline policy in this situation be to first see if there are any passengers who can afford to wait for the next available flight. This is called voluntary bumping. While there are likely several passengers who simply cannot afford to wait on any given flight, typically one or two are in no immediate hurry to get to their destination and can stay behind. In the event that an airline selects you as a candidate for a volunteer bump and you oblige, the following information should be considered:
The DOT has no specific rules regarding exact amounts of compensation for voluntary bumpers other than a guaranteed future flight arrangement. They do advise you to inquire about the compensation offered to those involuntarily bumped and negotiate an agreeable deal based off of that. You’ll have to be wary of when the next available flight will be, because you want to ensure that a hotel stay if necessary as well as ground transportation costs are covered by the airline. These factors are familiar bargaining chips to airlines and shouldn’t be a problem getting if you make the case for them.
Those involuntarily bumped are entitled to more rights per DOT. If the rescheduled flight is more than a certain amount of time after the original flight, you are entitled by law to receive a refund on your one-way ticket cost. If the time is doubled, so is your compensation. The time varies from flight to flight so check with the DOT. The aforementioned guidelines regarding voluntary bumps receiving hotel and alternative transportation compensation also apply.
If you find yourself being asked to be bumped from a flight or forced to be, know you’re well protected. Airlines are required to hand out pamphlets informing bumped passengers of their rights and entitlements, but don’t take their word for it. Know the laws before you’re bumped to better ensure you bounce back up without losing sleep or your shirt.