What If the Airline Bumps You?
Why would you get bumped? Because your flight is overbooked. Overbooking is the practice of selling more seats than an airline actually has. They don’t want to have any empty seats, and overbooking insures that every seat will be full even if someone doesn’t show up. Or, as is more likely, at the last minute, a frequent flier, who paid lots more than you did for a ticket, wants a seat.
Voluntary bumping happens when the airline entices you into giving up your seat by offering you a voucher, or a free future ticket, or whatever it takes to get you, or someone else, to cooperate. This is a strictly bartering type of situation.
Involuntary bumping or denied boarding occurs when the airline can’t get volunteers, and this is where things can get a little bit more complicated, and where the Department of Transportation (DOT) has recently proposed some changes.
#1)- INCREASED COMPENSATION. The DOT’s idea is to have an inflation-adjusted increase to involuntary bumping compensation, along with a plan to periodically adjust compensation amounts for inflation in the future. At present, if you are involuntarily bumped, you can receive up to $400 if the carrier arranges substitute transportation scheduled to arrive at your destination one to two hours after your original scheduled arrival of a domestic flight, and up to $800 for longer delays. The new amount would go up to $650 and $1,300 respectively.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
#2)- The rules for bumping only apply to flights on aircraft designed to hold 30 people or more. The DOT wants to lower that to 19 people or more.
#3)- Airlines don’t have to compensate you if you have a “zero fare ticket,” which would include frequent flier award tickets, those purchased from a consolidator, or bought with travel vouchers. The DOT proposes expanding bumping coverage to these individuals.
#4)- Many passengers have no idea they are entitled to monetary compensation. According to the DOT: “Current rules require that airlines give out a written notice that includes [monetary] options. But gate agents may verbally offer only a voucher for future travel—and passengers in the process of being bumped may not have the time to stop and read all the fine print.” The DOT wants to require the gate agents to verbally offer a cash or check option along with the travel voucher option.
#5)- The DOT also wants to require gate agents to provide more detailed information to passengers when a flight appears to be overbooked. The DOT feels passengers are not always fully aware of the risks associated with volunteering to be bumped versus waiting to see if they are involuntarily bumped. The DOT wants gate agents to list the passengers in line to be bumped, explain why they are in that line (emphasis mine), and how long it might take to be rebooked.
We strongly suggest that you print a copy of this blog and take it with you on your future air flights (in your carry-on bag) so you can refer to it if you are bumped.