Airline Issues: What to do When You Get Bumped

When you’re traveling and you’re on a tight schedule, getting bumped from a flight can be a huge inconvenience. If you have flexibility though, getting bumped can provide some nice perks. Either way, overselling flights is just part of the airline business, so be sure you know your rights how to make the most of the situation.

Don’t fear bumping.

  • Airlines must ask for volunteers before bumping unwilling passengers. Since airlines want happy customers, they will often up the ante to get volunteers before forcing someone to switch flights.
  • Getting to the airport early is the best way to make sure you get on your flight. Even if an airline bumps by fare level, they will generally start with the lowest fare class and bump those who checked in last.

If you volunteer to get bumped, ask the right questions.

  • Make sure you get a confirmed seat on the next flight, not a standby ticket.
  • Overnight costs could negate your compensation—be sure the airline will pay for your hotel and ground transportation in addition to giving you a voucher for future travel.
  • There’s room for negotiation, so ask for a seat upgrade or meal vouchers, especially if the airline is having a difficult time getting volunteers.
  • Try to get a travel voucher for a certain dollar amount rather than “free” tickets, which usually have more restrictions.

If you are involuntarily bumped, know the rules.

  • With involuntary bumping, airlines must follow a strict set of compensation standards:
  1. You are not entitled to any compensation if you still get to your destination within an hour of the original arrival time.
  2. If you arrive within 1-2 hours (or 1-4 hours internationally), the airline must pay double your one-way fare, with a $650 maximum.
  3. If you arrive more than two hours later (or four hours internationally), the airline must pay you four times your one-way fare, with a $1300 maximum.
  • If you are involuntarily bumped, you have the right to insist on a check instead of a voucher or tickets.

Final Word: Know the rules when it comes to getting bumped from a flight.  Keep in mind that every airline has their own check-in deadline, and if you miss that, you lose your reservation and therefore any bumping compensation.