By Jim Ferri
Bumping by airlines – especially voluntary bumping as discussed in the previous article Your Rights If You’re Bumped From Your Flight – is a bargaining game.
If you’re involuntarily bumped from your flight, sometimes an airline will offer you free tickets and a voucher for future flights in lieu of a check as compensation for denied boarding. You do have the right to refuse the voucher and be given a check as compensation instead.
Of course, if you don’t want to take the flight on which they want to rebook you, you can always request an “involuntary refund,” get all your money back from your original ticket, and go make your own travel arrangements.
But if you feel your negotiations haven’t been productive and your compensation isn’t sufficient, don’t rush to cash the check. Later on you might want to attempt to negotiate a higher amount with the carrier’s customer service people or complaint department. And, of course, there’s always the legal remedy aka the small claims court.
There are, however, a couple of important restrictions and loopholes that benefit the airlines you should know about if you’re seeking compensation. First of all, you need to have proof of a confirmed reservation. Even if you’ve gone missing in their computer system, if you have a confirmation in-hand (such as your ticket, etc.) they’re required to pay you as long as you haven’t canceled your reservation, or neglected to reconfirm it if you were required to do so.
Second, and this is important, you must also have checked-in by the deadline stipulated by the carrier. But be careful here — while some carriers stipulate only that you be at the gate 10-30 minutes before departure, on some international flights they require you to be there hours before the schedule departure time. Miss the check-in deadline and you may not only lose your seat, but any chance at compensation, as well. Just think of all those gate announcements you hear asking so-and-so to come to the gate.
And finally, the big loopholes. None of the DOT regulations apply to charter flights, to planes with less than 30 seats and on international flights coming into the USA (although some inbound carriers will compensate you, as well).
And if you’re bumped because the airline had to substitute your plane for a smaller one, it isn’t required to pay any compensation. Likewise, if they’ve bumped anyone due to safety-related balance or weight issues on aircraft that have 30-60 seats.