How to deal with being bumped from a flight


The best way to deal with being bumped from a flight depends on when you need to get to your destination. Sometimes being bumped is a good thing. Mark Orwoll, senior contributing editor at Travel + Leisure Magazine, takes you through the basics of bumping with advice for those who want to avoid getting bumped, and those who want to volunteer for it.

How to deal with being bumped from a flight
  • If a flight is oversold, airlines will first ask for volunteers who agree to wait for the next flight. These volunteers will be put on the next flight, and offered compensation in the form of coupons for savings on future flights, or even a free round-trip domestic ticket to be used at another time.
  • If no one volunteers, the airline will choose passengers to bump, usually those who check in last. Involuntarily bumped passengers will be booked on the next flight, but compensation in this case may not be as generous. The FAA requires only that airlines compensate involuntarily bumped passengers up to $400, depending on how long they are delayed.
  • Avoid getting bumped by getting to the airport early, and/or checking in online from home.
  • Volunteer to be bumped by asking at the gate whether the flight is oversold. If so, ask to be put on the list of volunteers willing to take the next flight — even before an announcement is made.

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.

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  • Mark Orwoll

    Mark Orwoll Senior Consulting Editor, Travel + Leisure Mark Orwoll has appeared numerous times as a travel authority on network and cable television and is the author of Teach Yourself e-Travel Today (Macmillan). more about this expert »

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