Flight Rights: What to know about being bumped from a flight.

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By Jeremy Miville

The recent United Airlines incident, where a passenger was forcefully removed from a flight having refused after being selected to involuntarily deboard, has become a hot-button issue for the travel industry.  Like most airline travelers, I started wondering what my options are when being asked to take a bump on a flight, and how things got so escalated for that United passenger.

There are guidelines airlines must follow when handling a cancellation, delay or bump, but passengers are often unaware of what is owed to them in these circumstances.  I’ve gone digging to learn more about the options and possible compensations available to those unfortunate travelers who have been asked or voluntarily took a flight bump.

Most times, you’ll be bumped or asked to take a bump, before you even board the plane. Some airlines make this a very lucrative deal for passengers, with HUNDREDS of dollars presented, flight vouchers, hotel accommodations and food vouchers. The variables effecting this level of compensation include the time of the bump and the next available flight, and destinations.

But remember, the U.S. Department of Transportation does have guidelines, and you should know them as a part of your bargaining power when presented with a choice or being forced to bump:

  1. If the flight change makes you 2+ hours late, you can get 4X your ticket price to a maximum of $1,350.
  2. If the flight change makes you 1-2 hours late, you’re entitled to 2X your ticket price for a maximum of $675.

But the third rule is a real bummer…

  1. If the change makes you less than an hour late, you are not entitled to any compensation.

So why are you being asked to take a bump?

More likely than not, it is because the flight is overbooked. My initial thought had always been ‘how can an airline overbook a flight?’ They know how many seats are on the plane, so how can they sell more tickets than they have seats?

Simple, they have the right to. Legally, they can overbook a flight by 10% to make up for those who don’t show or change flights prior to take off. Unfortunately, it makes sense.  It’s like inviting 30 friends to a dinner party and then the Morris family gets sick last minute and the Johnsons can’t find a babysitter.  You bought enough to feed 30, but now you’re stuck eating it. The airlines are just trying to not get stuck with empty seats.

So how do you avoid a bump all together?

Don’t be late to the gate and check in as early as possible. Also, don’t buy the cheapest ticket, as those will be the cheapest for the airlines to bargain with.  And remember, who would think it wise to bump a loyalty program member?  It may be worth joining the reward clubs.

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