Denied boarding rules can work for passengers about to be bumped
Planes are flying at capacity levels these days and the incidents of denied boarding compensation can be expected to be increasing. Knowing your rights can make a big difference whenever a passenger is faced with denied boarding, or, in the vernacular, being bumped.
Denied boarding is one of the only areas of airline customer service where federal regulation provides guidance to the airlines. The basic oversales requirements are codified in Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14, Chapter II, Subchapter A, Part 250.
There is voluntary bumping, when travelers volunteer to get off the flight for some sort of compensation. And there is involuntary bumping, when the airline denies you boarding because the flight is oversold.
Here are nine steps to get what is yours when the airlines are bumping you from your flight.
1. If travelers are denied boarding involuntarily, airlines must give them their rights from the airline in writing. The federal government demands that all passengers be given “written explanation of denied boarding compensation and boarding priorities.” This explanation will outline how the airline determines who gets bumped and lets them know that they can demand cash from the airlines.
2. Whenever travelers are bumped involuntarily, they should ask for green cash. The airlines will often offer airline scrip, but you are not required to accept that offer. They are required to give you cash. Often, you can negotiate a larger compensation if you accept scrip. If your domestic flight is delayed by more than one hour and less than two hours, you are entitled to $675, in most cases. If your flight is delayed by more than two hours, you are entitled to $1,350, in most cases.
Of course, United Airlines and Delta Airlines have announced that they will provide travelers who voluntarily give up their seats as much as $10,000 to take a follow-on flight. That changes the game. So far, only one passenger managed to squeeze $10,000 in airline scrip using this new policy. In the case of Allison Preiss, United Airlines was so adamant about not providing cash, they settled for $10,000 in airline scrip.
3. The airlines are required to book you on their earliest possible flight to your destination. If an airline can get a passenger to their final destination within an hour of their originally scheduled arrival, they are not required to provide any compensation for denied boarding. However, always ask for an upgrade if you have been denied boarding.
4. Ask the airline to check with other airlines for space. Don’t settle for a later flight on the same airline if another airline’s flight can get you to your destination earlier. Many airlines still have interline agreements with others that will allow sharing passengers.
5. Scrip or flight coupons. If you have agreed to be voluntarily bumped for compensation, make a decision whether to try to hold out for a round-trip coupon instead of accepting airline scrip. These days, though, with discount fares providing excellent airfares and coupons having so many restrictions, airline scrip may be the best alternative.
6. If your delay takes passengers through the lunch or dinner hours, they may request meal vouchers. The airlines are not required to provide these, but many do. For passengers flying from the US to Europe on a European carrier, this is required by European Union regulations. If passengers are on US carriers, there is no requirement for such meal compensation.
7. Ask for entrance into the airline’s clubroom. These rooms provide a more comfortable environment to wait for the next flight.
8. If the delay includes an overnight stay, ask the airline for a hotel voucher for accommodations. Airlines normally also include dinner and breakfast vouchers as well. Again, for passengers flying from the US to Europe on a European carrier, this is required by European Union regulations. If passengers are on US carriers, there is no requirement for such overnight compensation unless they are being bumped from a connecting flight.
9. Ask for transportation to the hotel and back to the airport. These are normally available, but many times, if you don’t ask, they are not offered. For passengers flying from the US to Europe on a European carrier, this is required by European Union regulations. If passengers are on US carriers, there is no requirement for such transportation compensation unless they are being bumped from a connecting flight.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 11 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.