• Bumped from a flight? You’ve got options

    Men in airport

    Photo credit: Alfred Hilton

    CWT Savvy Traveler
    You know the feeling. You’re sitting in a packed terminal waiting for your flight – and suddenly a voice comes over the loudspeaker. You hope it’s not coming from your gate, but to your utter dismay — it is.

    They’re asking for volunteers to sit this flight out because it has been overbooked.

    You can’t afford to miss this flight. Maybe you’ve got a connection in the next city; maybe your meeting starts shortly after your feet hit the ground at your destination; maybe you’ve been traveling for 12 straight hours and must get home on time … in order to wake up on time to head out yet again. At any rate, you keep your head down and hope someone else’s schedule is more flexible than yours.

    Unfortunately — everyone else is doing the same thing.

    And then, it happens. You are involuntarily bumped.

    In other words, you’ve been randomly selected (though, some say those who have checked in earlier than others stand a better chance of keeping their seat) to not take the flight you bought.

    You know that you’d be offered a voucher, accommodations, or other perks by an airline if you voluntarily bump yourself, but what happens when the airline makes the choice for you?

    You’ve got options.

    Photo by Mark Fischer

    Photo by Mark Fischer

    Per the U.S. federal government, regulations are in place to ensure that you will be fairly compensated for the trouble of losing the spot that you paid for in full. Specifically:

    “The airline must give you a written statement describing your rights, as well as the airline’s boarding priority rules and criteria. If the airline is not able to get you to your final destination within one hour of your original arrival time, the airline must pay you an amount equal to 200% of your one-way fare, with a maximum of $650 . . .  An airline may offer you a free ticket on a future flight in place of a check, but you have the right to insist on a check.”

    A few other specific points to note:

    • You are entitled to 400% of your one-way fare, with a $1300 maximum if your “substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you”
    • Don’t throw away that original ticket! You can use it on another flight. OR, if you opt to make your own arrangements, the airlines still have to refund that ticket for you, and compensate you for your trouble. Remember, “the denied boarding compensation is essentially a payment for your inconvenience.”
    • If, for any reason, you are required to pay for baggage (or other service) on the flight that has been rebooked for you (and you’ve already paid for that service on the ticket you purchased from the outset), the airline must refund your money.


    Check out the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement site for additional information, and corresponding rules/parameters.

    I talked to some of our travel counselors, and the good news is that it’s very infrequent that a traveler is involuntarily bumped. However, if it happens to you, don’t be one of the over 98% of travelers who don’t know their rights, or chooses not to pursue the compensation due to them. Remember, either you lose out entirely by not pursuing this compensation at all, or, if “an airline offers you a voucher and you accept it . . . ‘then all bets are off.’”

    Here are a couple more tips from our travel counselors, whether you’re involuntarily bumped, or your flight is delayed or cancelled:

    • Good manners go a long way. Being polite and considerate with the airline representatives will serve you much better than being angry and demanding.
    • Give a call to your travel counselor while you’re waiting for the airline to re-accommodate you. You may find that there are other travel options to consider than what the airline can offer.


    You work hard for your time and your money. Don’t let an overbooked flight make you lose a piece of what you toil so tirelessly to earn!

    Safe Travels!



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