Air Passengers’ Rights on Overbooked Flights

2017 hasn't been very bright for United Airlines thus far. After receiving widespread criticism for forbidding two teenagers access to their flights because of their outfit, the airline carrier is under the spotlights again for brutally removing a passenger from the airplane.

Prior to this scandal, many did not know that airline companies were legally allowed to overbook their flights to make up for no-show passengers. Indeed, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to ask their passengers to give up their seats voluntarily, in exchange for compensation. In case there aren’t enough volunteers, airline carriers are able to bump passengers against their will. These clients are also entitled to compensation to some extent.

We'd like to take the opportunity to remind our readers of their Passengers' Rights when facing an overbooking situation.



Voluntary Bumping

If your flight is overbokoed and you are willing to give up your seat, make sure to get the following questions answered:

  • When is the next flight you can travel on? Airlines will try their best to put you on flights that are within the hour of your original scheduled departure. But, if the airline offers to put you on stand-by on a later flight, be prepared to wait longer than expected.
  • Will the airline cover additional expenses? Make sure to agree with the airline on what expenses will be covered while you wait for your next flight (e.g. extra meals, hotel room or transfer from the airport to a hotel).
  • What type of compensation will you receive in exchange to your voluntary bumping? The DOT does not mandate the amount or form of the compensation, leaving you and the airline the ability to negotiate. If you are being offered a voucher or a free trip, make sure you ask about restrictions (how long is the voucher good for? Can you use the voucher on holidays? Can you use it toward international flights?).

Involuntary Bumping

The DOT requires airline companies to give all passengers bumped involuntarily a written statement explaining their rights and why they are being removed from the flight. These clients are often offered “denied boarding compensations” in the form of check or cash but these compensations follow specific restrictions and rules based on the cost of the original ticket and the length of the delay:

  • New arrival time is under one hours of the original scheduled time: No compensation
  • New arrival time is between one and two hours of your original scheduled time (or between two and four hours for international flights): You are entitled to a compensation equal to 200% of the price of your one-way fare to your final destination with a $675 maximum.
  • New arrival time exceeds two hours on domestic flights and four hours on international flights: The airline must compensate you at 400% of your one-way fare and the maximum is $1,350.

Other restrictions and rules that apply to involuntary bumping include:

  • Ticket fare: If the ticket does not show a fare such as a frequent-flyer ticket, the compensation will be based on the lowest payment charged for a ticket on that flight in the same class of service.
  • Cost of additional services: If optional services were paid for on the original flight (e.g., seat selection, checked baggage) and you do not receive these services on the substitute flight, the airline must refund those payments.
  • Airline’s check-in deadlines: Each airline is free to decide the amount of time before scheduled departure that passengers must present themselves at the airport. If you miss the check-in deadline, you may lose your reservation and your rights for compensation.
  • Size of the aircraft: If traveling on an aircraft with 30 through 60 passenger seats, compensation is not required if the removal is due to safety-related constraints. Finally, all of the above rules do not apply to flights operating on planes with less than 30 seats.

If you plan on traveling on a commercial flight in the upcoming months, we suggest you take some time to read your Passengers’ Rights. To do so, you can visit the U.S. DOT’s website, the EU’s website or your airline's terms and conditions page. For a quick reminder of your rights and restrictions, check out a very helpful infographic made by the Philippine's DOT
Posted: 4/14/2017 12:26:45 PM