A recent viral video has been raising many questions about travelers’ rights on overbooked flights. Let it be said that the video of a doctor being dragged off a flight came as a shock to most of the fare-paying public. After all, he did pay for the flight. Shouldn’t he be entitled to better treatment? As customers of major airlines, could the same happen to us? Isn’t it the airlines fault if they sell more seats than they have available? While it is not our purpose to editorialize on recent events, here are some things you should know.
Why Do Airlines Overbook Flights?
It might seem logical that if airlines didn’t overbook flights in the first place, we wouldn’t have this problem. If there are 200 seats on a plane, they should sell 200 tickets. That way, everybody has a seat. Everybody is happy. That is exactly how it would work if you were booking a flight to, say, “Fantasy Island.” In the real world, however, people do not always show up for their flights. When this happens, it gives the airline an opportunity to resell that seat. Airlines run on relatively slim margins, which make it necessary to exploit every opportunity to maximize revenue. If you own stock in an airline, you probably appreciate that strategy. Statistical analysis has revealed that, on average, five percent of travelers do not show up for their respective flights. This number can be as high as 15 percent. An overbooking occurs when too many people (although correctly ticketed for a given flight) actually show up to board.
So, What Happens Next?
When a flight is overbooked, the airline will ask for volunteers to give up their seats. There is an upside to this, however, if you have some wiggle room in your schedule. You can usually receive compensation in the form of cash or travel vouchers, if you are willing to alter your travel plans. Additionally, you can negotiate, to a certain degree, what that compensation will be. If there are multiple people willing to surrender their seats, the airline can (and will) take the lowest bid.
What If No One Volunteers?
Here’s where the friendly skies can become a little less so. If there are no volunteers, “volunteers” will be chosen at random. If one of those involuntary volunteers happens to be you, you must give up your seat and run the risk of no compensation at all. Even though you have booked a certain seat on a specific flight, that isn’t exactly what you paid for. You actually paid for transportation from one point to another within a timeframe that approximates the itinerary provided by the airline. There are simply too many factors affecting actual times, so airlines make no guarantees. If you are bumped from a flight, it will do absolutely no good to argue.
Is There Compensation If You Are Bumped?
According to the Department of Transportation, if the airline is able to rebook you on another flight that gets you to your destination within an hour of your original time, no compensation is due to you. If you are rebooked to arrive within one to two hours of your previous time, the airline must compensate you 200 percent of the one-way fare. If your arrival is delayed by more than two hours, you are owed 400 percent of your one-way fare (this is capped at $1350, however).
If you used frequent flier miles to purchase your ticket, your compensation will be based on the lowest one-way fare for that particular flight. Additionally, if you paid to upgrade your ticket and there is not a similar seat available on your rebooked flight, you are owed that money back.
If all of these rules are leaving your head swimming, you could always leave all of the details to the pros at AmTrav. If you’re ever bumped, we’ll get you where you need to be, when you need to be there.
By: Denise D.