If an airline finds that a flight is overbooked, it is required by law to first ask the passengers on the flight to volunteer to give up their seats in exchange for compensation of some kind. Most likely, the airline will offer a free round-trip ticket to any volunteers.
If this tactic does not work, or the number of volunteers is insufficient, the airline has no choice but to begin bumping passengers involuntarily from the flight.
If I Have Been Involuntarily Bumped From a Flight Because of Overbooking, Am I Entitled to Compensation?
There is no limit to the amount of money or vouchers that the airline may offer. Also, passengers are free to negotiate with the airline if they are willing to voluntarily give up their seats on a flight.
If an airline offers a reduced-rate ticket, a free ticket, or a voucher to a passenger in exchange for volunteering to fly on a different flight, the airline must tell passengers about all of the restrictions that may apply to their use of the reduced rate ticket. This also includes free tickets or vouchers before the passenger decides whether or not to give up their confirmed reserved seat on an overbooked flight.
However, the airline may legally refuse to compensate a person if any of the following applies:
- The airline offers a person a seat on another flight so that the person is scheduled to reach their final destination within one hour of the scheduled arrival of their original flight;
- The airline had to substitute a smaller aircraft for operational reasons or reasons of safety;
- The airline offered a person a seat in a different class on the same flight at no extra charge, and the person refused;
- The airline canceled the entire flight;
- The person failed to follow the airline’s ticketing, check-in and reconfirmation requirements;
- The person is an unacceptable passenger under the airline’s rules and procedures, e.g., the person is intoxicated, or the airline may discover that the person is on a no-fly list.
It is legal for airlines to involuntarily bump passengers from an oversold flight if there are not enough people who volunteer to take a different flight. It is the airline’s responsibility to determine its own fair boarding priorities.
If there are not enough passengers who are willing to give up their seats voluntarily, an airline may deny a person a seat on a flight on the basis of criteria that it chooses. This includes the passenger’s check-in time, the fare paid by the passenger, or the passenger’s frequent flyer status.
However, the criteria cannot be based on any impermissible passenger characteristics that would constitute discrimination. For example, an airline could not lawfully use a passenger’s race or national origin as the basis for bumping them from an overbooked flight.
An airline is required to compensate a person who has been involuntarily bumped from an overbooked flight in certain situations. However, there are also a number of situations in which a person is not entitled to compensation.
A person qualifies for compensation if they have been involuntarily bumped from an overbooked light and the following is true:
- The person has a confirmed reservation;
- The person checked in to their flight on time;
- The person arrived at the departure gate on time; and
- The airline cannot get the person to their destination within one hour of their flight’s original arrival time.
The amount of compensation due to passengers who are involuntarily bumped from an overbooked flight should be based on:
- The price of their ticket;
- The length of time that they are delayed in getting to their destination because of being denied boarding;
- Whether their flight is a domestic flight or an international flight leaving from the U.S.
Technically this compensation is referred to as “denied boarding compensation” (DBC).
Most bumped passengers who experience short delays on flights are compensated in an amount equal to two times the one-way price of the flight from which they were bumped. However, airlines may limit this amount to no more than $775. Passengers experiencing longer delays on flights should receive payments of four times the one-way value of the flight from which they were bumped. However, airlines may limit this amount to a maximum of $1,550.
Airlines owe other obligations to passengers who have been involuntarily bumped from overbooked flights. The rights of airline passengers include a right to information. Airlines are required by the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement that informs them of their rights and explains how the airlines decide who gets bumped.
It is important to understand that if a passenger has met the following conditions, airlines are not allowed to deny them the right to board a flight. They are also not allowed to remove them from a flight they have already boarded:
- The person has checked in for their flight before the check-in deadline set by the airlines;
- A gate agent has accepted the person’s boarding pass, whether paper or electronic, and has told them to proceed to boarding.
However, airlines may deny boarding or remove a person from a flight even after accepting their boarding pass and informing them that they may proceed to board if it is done for reasons of safety, security, or health risk or due to a behavior that is considered obscene, disruptive, or otherwise in violation of the law.
If My Flight Was Delayed, Diverted, or Canceled, Am I Entitled to Compensation?
If a person is booked on a domestic flight that is delayed, diverted, or canceled, they are not entitled to compensation. However, some airlines will offer meals, hotels, and toiletries to passengers who are delayed overnight.
If a person is booked on an international flight, the answer is also no. Under an international treaty called the Warsaw Convention, an airline is not required to compensate a person for the inconvenience or damages caused by flight delay as long as it can show any of the following:
- The airline took all necessary measures to avoid the damage;
- It was impossible to take such measures.
However, a person should refer their international air carrier to Article 19 of the Warsaw Convection in order to persuade it to cover any direct damages caused by a delay of an international flight.
The airline may cover such losses as the cost of hotel stays, toiletries, and meals pursuant to Article 19 of the Convention. This provides that the carrier shall be liable for damages occasioned by delays in the transportation of air passengers, baggage, or goods on international flights.
Do I Need a Lawyer for My Delayed, Canceled, or Overbooked Flight?
If your domestic flight was delayed, diverted, or canceled, a lawyer probably cannot help you as you are not entitled to compensation. If the flight was an international one, delay, diversion, or cancellation may be covered by the Warsaw Convention.
However, if you were involuntarily bumped from an overbooked flight and the airline failed to give you the compensation to which you are legally entitled, a liability lawyer may help you. LegalMatch.com can connect you to a lawyer who can help you recover all of the compensation to which you are entitled. An experienced lawyer can negotiate with the airline on your behalf and file a lawsuit if necessary.