Hi I'm Mark Orwoll of Travel + Leisure magazine for howdini. You've probably heard the term somebody being bumped from a flight. What that basically means is this: the airline has sold tickets to more passengers that can actually fit on the plane. Somebody has to be left behind; that person has been bumped.
Now twenty years ago, being bumped happened a lot more often than it does now. The airline considered that a certain percentage of people just wouldn't show up for their flights and that they could fill those empty seats with the passengers who did show up. These days computer software has made overbooking less necessary. Also there are greater restrictions for getting a refund on no-shows. That means over-booking doesn't happen quite as often and yet people still do get bumped from time to time. When that happens, the airline will generally ask for volunteers. As an inducement, they'll offer some form of compensation. It may be airfare coupons worth several hundred dollars to a free round trip ticket. If nobody accepts their offer, then the airline chooses the person to be bumped. And that's usually the last person to check in.
The department of transportation says that for domestic flights, the airline has to compensate passengers who are involuntarily booked up to $400 in cash depending on how long they're going to be delayed. That person also gets to keep their original flight coupon and get on the next flight.
Now, if you want to avoid being bumped, the best thing you can do it get to the airport early and be at your gate at least fifteen minutes before departure. On the other hand, if getting that extra compensation from the airline is something that might appeal to you and you don't have any pressing engagements at your destination, you can volunteer to be bumped. To do that, go to the gate agent and ask if your flight is overbooked. If so, ask if you can put your name on a volunteer list of people who are willing to be bumped.
Now whether you're bumped or not, here's hoping that you have a smooth flight.