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What Are Your Rights When You’re Involuntarily Bumped?

You get to the airport early, your luggage is checked, you have your boarding pass in hand—and you find out that your flight is overbooked. While airlines can usually find passengers willing to take a different flight in exchange for compensation, it’s the unfortunate truth that the act of involuntarily bumping passengers is pretty commonplace. Most people go calmly, if not happily. But legally if the airline tells you to go, you have to go.

Fortunately, you have rights when you are involuntarily bumped. The Department of Transportation takes this issue seriously and has several rules in place designed to protect and compensate affected passengers. The DOT’s website has the full rules, but here are the highlights:

  • First, the DOT requires airlines to give passengers “a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn’t.”
  • If the airline re-accomodates you on a flight that gets you to your final destination within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, there is no compensation.
  • If the alternative flight gets you there between one and two hours later (or between one and four hours on international flights), you should receive an amount equal to “200% of your one-way fare to your final destination that day, or $775, whichever amount is lower.”
  • Finally, if you’re more than two hours late (four hours internationally), or if the airline doesn’t re-accomodate you at all, you should get “400% of your one-way fare, or $1,550, whichever amount is lower.”

The airline must also refund any optional services you paid for (like seat selection) if you don’t receive them on the alternative flight.

Your carefully scheduled travel plans can be significantly disrupted by an involuntary bumping. While bumping remains relatively rare, the DOT has noted an increased rate of bumping since the start of the pandemic, with July through September of 2022 seeing a bumping rate of 0.22 per 10,000 passengers as compared to 0.19 per 10,000 passengers for the same period in 2019.

So it probably won’t happen to you, which is good. But it’s still important to know your rights. Decrease your chances of getting bumped even further by booking on the airlines that are least likely to bump passengers.

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