Unfortunately, overbooking a flight is not illegal, and airlines overbook flights to a certain extent in order to compensate for “no-shows.” That means that some passengers are “bumped” off their originally scheduled flight.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to ask their passengers to voluntarily give up their seat in exchange for compensation. If you are not in a rush to get to your scheduled destination, voluntary bumping may be an option for you. Airlines are required to look for passengers who are willing to be “bumped” before “bumping” anyone who does not wish to be delayed.
If it appears that the flight is oversold, the airline staff will start asking for volunteers to be “bumped” at the boarding area. This is where the airline announces what the compensation amount will be to take a later flight. But, before you make this decision, be sure to ask a few questions.
- When is the next flight option?
- Is the seat guaranteed or being offered as a stand by passenger? Try to have a guaranteed seat or you could be traveling for a while.
- What amenities if any are being offered by the airline? This is especially important in the event the next flight out is the following morning.
- Are they offering a meal or voucher for food, transportation to a hotel and hotel accommodation? As the passenger, you have the right to ask if this is part of the compensation package. Otherwise, the costs would be coming out of your own pocket.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has not required a specific amount the airlines have to offer passengers. The compensation is between the airlines and the passengers directly.
Generally, airlines will offer a complimentary flight (voucher) possibly with a dollar amount and/or additional points with that carrier. You may want to inquire what restrictions come with the voucher and if there are any blackout dates, location parameters (such as, only good for travel within certain areas of the country), and expiration dates. Airline employees are given guidelines as to how they can negotiate and if volunteers are not coming forward immediately, they can increase the offer slightly.
Continue to part 2 for more on involuntary bumping.