Your Rights – Passenger Bumping


When airlines sell seats on flights, they tend to sell more seats than are available on the plane. They do this because historical trending showing that number of passengers on a given flight don’t arrive on time. While different airlines handle voluntary bumping differently – offering it at check-in versus at the gate versus both, some don’t allow it at all.

The primary distinction between the two is in their names:

  • Voluntary bumping is when you offer to give up your seat for compensation offered by the airline. This is usually in the form of flight vouchers that you can use for future flights with the airline.
  • Involuntary bumping where you are denied boarding though you have paid for and have secured a seat on the flight.

It is fairly rare to experience involuntary bumping; there are a few reasons for this.

  • The DOT defines an involuntary bump as one happening due to an airline overbooking problem, and not due to weather/acts of god.
  • If the passenger is aware of their rights, they are entitled compensation when involuntarily bumped – potentially more than what the airline might offer when asking for volunteers. This compensation is determined by the DOT – more below.

Voluntary Bumping

When volunteering to be bumped, it is important that you ask some important questions to the gate agent. Be sure to get all the flight information for the new flight, and that you won’t be flying stand-by. With regards to the voucher, be sure to ask regarding things like blackout dates, expiration dates, and other limitations that might not be obvious.

Most airlines that practice voluntary bumping will ask at the gate when more passengers have checked-in than there are seats on the flight. This, however, does not indicate that you will be selected as there is still a chance that another passenger will not make the flight. In the event that you are asked to not board, after volunteering, you receive the flight voucher and are rebooked per the situation.

Delta is different from other airlines in that it asks you if you are willing to be bumped at the time of check-in. You then provide a monetary level that you would be willing to accept in compensation. If you are selected, the gate agent will then page you and go over the points with you in person. Though this can be faster, I prefer asking the agent at the gate to ensure that I am aware of all the limitations of the voucher.

Involuntary Bumping

TravelSense also provides details on the compensation that the DOT requires for passengers that are impacted by involuntary bumping. The full requirements to be bumped can be found in the document listed below in the “Additional Reading” section. Note that if you are involuntarily bumped but still arrive at your final destination within an hour of your original time, you receive no compensation.

A breakdown by travel type and inconvenience (delay time) can be found in the table below, and on TravelSense.

Flight TypeTotal DelayCompensationCompensation Limit
Domestic< 1 hourNoneN/A
1 – 2 hours200% of one-way fare$650
> 2 hours400% of one-way fare$1,300
Int’l< 1 hourNoneN/A
1 – 4 hours200% of one-way fare$650
> 4 hours400% of one-way fare$1,300

DOT Defined Compensation –

Additional Reading

Here is the DOT’s full document on “Sky-Rights“. There is a lot of information there, and not all of it will apply, but it is always better to go in fully prepared.


Power Outages and Cancellations

Update: Georgia Power has elaborated on the problem and explained that it was equipment failure at Delta that caused the outage. Additionally, Delta has expanded their travel waiver to cover Tuesday travelers as well as those affected on Monday, though travel still needs to take place by Friday. Finally, a correction regarding the American Express Platinum protection – this protection is an added purchase, while it is complimentary with the Citi Prestige and Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Update 2: Delta is extending their waiver another day as there were more cancellations today, and more are expected for tomorrow.

As many of you are aware by now, a power outage in Atlanta resulted in Delta going dark this morning. Starting at 2:38 AM, the outage lasted for 6 hours and affected everything from displays at airports to mobile apps and the check-in kiosks. Thankfully they are issuing free travel change waivers for those affected today.

RenĂ©, of RenesPoints on BoardingArea, has a helpful post outlining how to handle a situation like this. The most important things to do are to remain calm and polite when working with customer service representatives. They’ve been dealing with this problem since customers started to get affected by it this morning, and they likely won’t be done cleaning things up for a few days.

Make use of the travel change waiver, if your plans are somewhat flexible, and read up on your credit card’s travel interruption protection coverage! Some cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, American Express Platinum, and Citi Prestige, will cover purchases for food, hotel stays, and other essentials for delays exceeding certain periods. With the Citi Prestige, for example, any delay over 3 hours qualifies. The Chase Sapphire Preferred [affiliate link] requires a longer period: 12 hours. The Platinum card from American Express [affiliate link] is in the middle at 4 hours. Links to the documentation for these cards can be found below, and a full list of cards that cover such expenses can be found at MileCards.

Remember – stay safe and don’t panic if your flight is cancelled; Delta will make sure you get to your destination! It never hurts to send them a tweet (@Delta), but again remember that there is a person behind that screen, and they’re doing whatever they can to help everyone affected.