Mind Candy

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Passenger rights when being bumped from a flight

Posted by mandyf on January 14, 2012

Being bumped off an airline flight is a reality most regular travelers face at some point. Bumping occurs when a flight is oversold, meaning there are more passengers than there are seats. With airlines offering fewer flights and the pool of travelers hardly dwindling, being bumped from a flight is seriously increasing – to the tune of a 17% uptick just this year alone. The good news, there is a process that legally must be followed before a person is bumped from a flight, and should a person be bumped they are obligated to compensation.

While all nations do not operate under the same legal standards, in the U.S. the rules regarding bumping people from flights are about to get harsher for the airlines in all likelihood. The current rules regarding bumping passengers from flights is pretty simple – the airline must first ask for volunteers, and if a sufficient amount do no volunteer they can then choose who will be held over for a later flight at their own discretion. When that happens, as a passenger, you have rights.

Currently, if you voluntarily agree to take a bump to a later flight, the airline by law must compensate you with no less than a $400 voucher for travel. Simply telling you that you will be upgraded to business or first class passage on the next flight is not something you have to accept. It is fully within your rights to demand the voucher to be used as and when you see fit. If being bumped will cause a significant delay which is generally considered over 8 hours, but is not explicitly defined, you should be receiving a travel voucher for upwards of $800.

In the case that you find yourself being forcibly bumped from a flight, the rules change. Under the law, you DO NOT have to accept a voucher or upgrade as compensation for being forcibly bumped from a flight. Most travelers are not aware of this because airlines do not want you to know about it. The reason being, is that when you are forcibly bumped from a flight you are by law due compensation in the form of cash – or a check. You are not in any way left with only the option of accepting vouchers or upgrades for being forcibly bumped – get your money!

Airlines are very fond of “forgetting” this rule as can be seen by Southwest Airlines paying fines on a regular basis for flouting the rule. Passengers right’s advocacy groups are calling for more generous compensation for those whom voluntary take bumps, and it looks like the law will reflect those desires in the near future. As one advocacy group stated, most airlines live and die by the principle of overselling flights, and then dealing with the consequences later. When those situations arise, like most any business, they seek the easiest options for a fix, in this case, offering you the least they possibly can without parting with any real cash.

They cite the actual hope airlines have is you never get the option to use your vouchers. There are allegations which are nearly impossible to prove that passenger lists are scanned against databases which store information culled from ticket purchases to see who is least likely to be a regular air transport customer and that they are then the first options when needing to forcibly bump a passenger. Those allegations may be true, but they may also be impossible to prove without a whistle blower, and even then, it is not likely anything could in all seriousness be done to change it.

In  closing, keep these quick facts in mind when you travel by air in the U.S.:

* Airlines must first publicly announce they are looking for volunteers to take a later flight if a flight is oversold.
* Anyone that volunteers to be bumped from a flight is due a travel voucher of no less than $400
* If you are forcibly bumped from a flight, you are to be compensated in cash on the spot or a check.
* If you absolutely detest the idea of being bumped, JetBlue has had the lowest bump rate the last several years and compensates bumped passengers $1,000 or more depending on circumstances. While being bumped is bad, they go above and beyond to ease the sting when it is necessary.


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