Once the plane tickets are purchased and travelers have arrived on time at the airport, it seems everything should be smooth sailing from there. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Here are some things to know for those who find themselves sitting at the gate due to an overbooked flight:
1. Bumping is not illegal
While frustrating for consumers, the business practice of bumping is not illegal, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Airlines tend to overbook their scheduled flights to a certain extent in order to compensate for "no-shows." That allows airlines to keep the flights as close to full capacity as possible.
2. Airlines must seek volunteers
When there are more passengers ready to fly than there are seats available, airlines are required by the DOT to first seek out customers who are willing to switch flights voluntarily, in exchange for compensation or a transportation voucher, before bumping anyone involuntarily. Those who choose to take advantage of the offer should first inquire about any and all restrictions that may apply. For instance, how long is the ticket voucher good for? Can it be used over the holidays or for international trips?
3. You can be bumped involuntarily
If not enough volunteers come forward, airlines can select passengers to give up their seats. The practice is called “involuntary denied boarding” or “bumping.” However, the DOT requires each airline to give all passengers who are involuntarily bumped a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn't. Travelers who do not get to fly are frequently entitled to denied boarding compensation in the form of a check or cash. The amount depends on the price of their ticket and the length of the delay.
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