Your Rights – Passenger Bumping

Background

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 Type Total Delay Compensation Compensation Limit
Domestic < 1 hour None N/A
1 – 2 hours 200% of one-way fare $650
> 2 hours 400% of one-way fare $1,300
Int’l < 1 hour None N/A
1 – 4 hours 200% of one-way fare $650
> 4 hours 400% of one-way fare $1,300

DOT Defined Compensation – Travelsense.org

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.

 

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