Last week was not a good week for United Airlines. Social media saw a tidal wave of people responding in horror to a passenger being dragged off an airplane after it was oversold (more passengers than seats). United obviously messed up big time and now they are admitting it and trying to correct their big mistakes and do the right thing. In light of all the conversation about the horrors of being bumped I thought it would be a good time to explain the process of being denied boarding (bumped from a flight). Most people don’t know the rules and protections they have if a flight is oversold. Below are 8 things you need to know about what to do if you are either involuntarily or voluntarily bumped.
#1 – Most people are voluntarily bumped when a flight is oversold –
This is a simple process where the airlines see they have sold more tickets than they have seats on a flight so they announce to the passengers that they will offer them compensation if they are willing to take an alternative flight to their destination. Usually, the airlines starts out offering a travel voucher of $400 and continues to increase the amount offered up to $800 or more until enough people agree to take an alternative flight (CLICK HERE to read how Delta this week announced they are allowing up to $9,950 offered for volunteers). It is important to know that this is all highly negotiable and some people are now asking for cash instead of vouchers for future flights. Keep in mind there are no federal rules that must be followed for voluntary bumping. It is almost like an auction to see who will be the first to put up their hands for the lowest amount offered.
#2 – Involuntary bumping (denied boarding) rules are prescribed by the government –
An involuntary bump is when a flight is oversold and not enough people voluntarily agree to get off the plane and take an alternate flight in return for negotiated compensation. Ironically, by law, the airlines do not have to compensate you if they can get an involuntary bumped passenger to your destination within one hour of the originally scheduled arrival time. If they can’t get you there within two hours they must pay you 200% (maximum of $675) of the one way fare in cash (for example, if the one way fare was $220 they must pay you $440). If you can’t get there within four hours they must pay you 400% (maximum of $1,350) of the one way fare (for example, if the OW airfare was $220 they must pay you $880). CLICK HERE for more details on denied boarding compensation.
#3 – Negotiations for overbooking usually happen before passengers enter the airplane –
The airlines usually know in advance if they have oversold a flight and will start announcing offers to be voluntarily bumped sometimes hours in advance of a flight. I have even received notices when I checked-in online that they are accepting volunteers for alternate flights with a set amount of compensation. Very rarely does an airline board a plane first before they make an offer. Because of what happened on the United flight last week I don’t think you will ever see passengers completely board a plane before the negotiations for compensation and alternate flight options are completed.
#4 – Federal law says that if a crew member gives you an order you have to obey –
For obvious safety reasons, the government has given the airline crew almost universal power to control the flight from passengers getting out of hand with the potential to disrupt the flight and affect other passengers. I have personally seen crew members abuse this power as they try to show people “who is boss”. However, the bottom line is that if a crew member tells you to get off the plane you are obligated by law to obey. Even though I probably would have been as upset as the passenger on the UA flight was last week the law says that the crew is always in control while you are on the airplane and must always be obeyed. Like it or not. Ironically, if someone had not taken a video of the man being drug off the flight he would have probably spent the night in jail for breaking federal law.
#5 – Gate agents are limited in what they can offer so always ask for a supervisor for a richer offer –
Delta Air Lines made national news this past week when they announced they were increasing the amount of compensation they would authorize an employee to offer a passenger who is denied boarding. The gate agent (the one checking you on the flight) is authorized to offer up to $2000 in compensation. The airline supervisor can go as high as $9950. If a flight is over booked and they are asking for volunteers always asked to speak to a supervisor. They have the power of the purse strings.
#6 – Planes filled with business travelers are less likely to accept voluntary denied boarding compensation –
Business travelers are usually least likely to volunteer to be bumped as they have meetings they must attend and the compensation is not as important as the meeting. A plane full of families with children usually can easily find a family that will accept free travel vouchers to pay for their next family vacation for FREE.
#7 – When you buy an airline ticket you agree to be bound by their contract of carriage, and everything is in the airlines’ favor –
When you purchase an airline ticket every passenger agrees to be bound by their contract of carriage. These terms are all very one-sided. Basically you give all your rights away to the airline. I’m not sure anyone would ever buy an airline ticket if they actually read all the rights that you give up when you buy that ticket. CLICK HERE to see all the rights you give to an airline every time you buy a ticket.
#8 – Positive changes will be made by all the airlines in the near future –
The good news is that the horrendous event last week shocked all the airlines into realizing they have to treat their customers much better than in the past. The oligopoly that the airlines control over the traveling public was pushed over the line last week. Let’s all hope that the airlines respond by treating their passengers with more respect. We deserve it.
Attend our FREE Travel Night this Thursday! –
Do not miss our FREE and exciting travel night this Thursday, April 20th, at 6:30pm, at the Bernina Suite #27 at The Shoppes at Piedmont, 1265 S Cotner Blvd, Lincoln, NE 68510. Join us for a fun and informal evening to learn about three of our upcoming tours: “The Wonder and Awe of Alaska” featuring a remarkable cruise to Alaska with extension to Denali National Park, “Nebraska vs Oregon“, our fun football tour visiting Seattle before we head to Portland by the scenic coastal train, and finally our “Taste of Italy – Vino Italiano” tour. This is the third time we travel to Italy to experience some of the most unique villages and wine that exists. Reserve your spot for Thursday night by calling 402-458-9845 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us how many are in your party. We are looking forward to seeing you!