Plane overbooked? Denied boarding? Bumped? Know your rights.
Having an plane overbooked is not illegal, and most airlines overbook their scheduled flights to a certain extent in order to compensate for “no-shows.” Passengers are sometimes left behind or “bumped” as a result. When an oversale occurs, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to ask people who aren’t in a hurry to give up their seats voluntarily, in exchange for compensation. Those passengers bumped against their will, with a few exceptions, are entitled to compensation.
Almost any planeload of airline passengers includes some people with urgent travel needs and others who may be more concerned about the cost of their tickets than about getting to their destination on time. DOT rules require airlines to seek out passengers who are willing to give up their seats for compensation before bumping anyone involuntarily.
Here’s how this works. At the check-in or boarding area, airline employees will look for volunteers when it appears that the flight has been oversold. If passengers are not in a rush to arrive at their next destination, they can give their reservation back to the airline in exchange for compensation and a later flight. But before they do this, they may want to get answers to these important questions:
When is the next flight on which the airline can confirm a seat? The alternate flight may be just as acceptable. On the other hand, if the airline offers to put a passenger on standby on another flight that’s full, they could be stranded again.
Will the airline provide other amenities such as free meals, a hotel room, transfers between the hotel and the airport, and a phone card? If not, passengers might have to spend the money it offers on food or lodging while they wait for the next flight.
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