What to Do If You Get Bumped From a Flight


Overbooked flight? Somebody's going to get bumped — a common, but inconvenient aspect of travel by airplane. Indeed, it's within an airline's power to deny ticket-holding passengers a seat on a flight. Of course, passengers have some control in these situations, as well. The next time you're forced to give up your seat on an oversold domestic flight, know that these are your rights, from the federal Department of Transportation.

1. Remember that airlines must seek volunteers first

Before an airline can bump anyone involuntarily, they need to first find passengers who are willing to give up their seats. If you have some flexibility in your schedule and can arrive at your next destination a bit later than originally planned, you can give up your ticket in exchange for a later departure time. If you decide to volunteer to give up your seat, find out whether the airline is able to issue you a new ticket or if you'll be flying standby. If it's the latter, find out whether the airline can offer you any compensation toward food or lodging while you wait. It could be a while, and, as we all know, airport cuisine isn't cheap.

2. Ask about compensation

If you are bumped involuntarily, ask an airline representative what, if any, compensation you are entitled to. You are entitled to compensation if, for example, the airline fails to arrange substitute transportation to get you to your final destination within one hour of your originally scheduled arrival time. The amount depends on the price of the ticket and the length of the delay. For example, if your new travel arrangement itinerary is scheduled to get you to your domestic destination between one and two hours after your originally scheduled arrival time, the airline is required to pay you 200 percent of your one-way fare to your final destination that day (up to $675 maximum).

3. Request a written copy of your rights

DOT requires each airline to offer all involuntarily bumped passengers a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets to fly on an oversold flight and who doesn't. This is your guide to navigating any bumped seating situation. You will be less likely to miss out on any compensation owed to you if you request and keep a copy of this with you.

4. Seek a refund for any prepaid upgrades

If you prepaid for an in-flight amenity, such as premium seat selection, and you do not receive those services on your substitute flight, the airline that bumped you must refund those charges. There will be times an airline is unable to honor prepaid amenities if, for example, the plane you are on for your replacement flight is not equipped with the same bells and whistles available on your original booking.

5. You get to choose: free tickets, vouchers, or a check

You have the right to insist on compensation by an on-the-spot check for the dollar amount equal to the ticket price. Alternately, airlines may offer free tickets or dollar-amount vouchers for future flights. The choice is yours!

Our advice: If you paid a higher-than-normal rate for your ticket, opt for the check. This way, you'll have a shot at rebooking a new trip for less, leaving you with the leftovers to spend however you desire.

6. If you aren't compensated fairly, you can pursue a complaint

If being bumped costs you more than the airline will pay you on the spot, you can try to negotiate a higher settlement with their complaint department. But don't cash the check or use the voucher while you're negotiating. As soon as you spend your compensation bucks, your right to haggle for more is gone.

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