By Jim Ferri
Now that airlines have elevated “overbooking” to an art form, passengers are being “bumped” from flights more regularly.
Since airlines overbook to compensate for “no-shows” all the time — it’s not an illegal practice — the U.S. Department of Transportation has set rules to protect you.
Whenever passengers need to be bumped, airlines are required to first ask for volunteers, and they usually sweeten their request with some type of compensation, such cash or a free ticket, although none is required by DOT.
But before you grab the offer, ask a few questions since it’s all a bargaining game. When is the next flight on which they’ll provide a confirmed seat? If it’s not soon ask if they’ll provide meal / hotel vouchers, since you don’t want to spend your compensation. Also inquire if any free ticket has restrictions –an expiration date, any blackout dates, is it good domestically and internationally, etc.? The airlines are also required to tell potential volunteers they may be involuntarily bumped and what compensation they could then expect.
Without volunteers, passengers (usually those with the lowest fares) are bumped involuntarily. Each must be given a written statement explaining how the carrier chooses whom to bump. In addition, DOT requires you sometimes be given cash or a check as “denied boarding compensation.”
In regard to compensation, “one hour” is the time to keep in mind. Current regulations stipulate if the carrier can still get you to your destination within one hour of your originally schedules arrival time, it needn’t make any compensation.
But if your new flight will get you to your destination one to two hours later than your originally scheduled arrival (on an international flight, one to four hours), they need to reach for their checkbook. You must be paid an amount equal to the one-way fare to that destination that day, with a cap of $400 on the compensation. And you get to keep your original ticket.
If the new flight will get you to your destination two or more hours later (or four or more hours on an international flight) the airline is required to pay you twice the one-way fare up to a maximum of $800. The same holds true if your carrier cannot provide you with any substitute travel arrangements.
Next: Airline Bumping – The Fine Print and Loopholes