What To Do When You Get Bumped From A Flight

If you've never been "bumped" from a flight during your travels, then consider yourself a fortunate flyer. Getting bumped from a flight means the airline has given your seat to someone else — and it's perfectly legal. Passengers are bumped when an airline oversells a flight. And overselling isn't a glitch; it's a common practice.

In short, airlines gamble on a certain amount of no-shows for the scheduled flight, and by overselling the flight, they're able to fill these "newly available" seats. But when these no-shows do show, there aren't enough seats left available. That's how to get bumped from a flight. Although bumping doesn't happen too often, as airlines are surprisingly accurate regarding no-shows, it does happen.

Once the airline knows it's oversold the flight, they'll ask passengers if anyone's willing to give up their seat voluntarily in exchange for compensation. If no one volunteers or there aren't enough volunteers, then passengers may be involuntarily bumped from the flight. If you do get bumped from a flight, you shouldn't freak out. But you should understand your rights and options.

Rights of bumped passengers

If you're not in a huge rush and want to take advantage of the situation, consider volunteering your seat. While the compensation will vary by the airline, flight, and circumstance, incentives typically include money or vouchers, reduced-priced tickets, or free future tickets in exchange for taking a different flight.

However, if you're involuntarily bumped, the circumstance may still entitle you to compensation, particularly when you're bumped due to an oversold flight. If you're informed that you've been involuntarily bumped, the first thing to do is (calmly) speak with a flight agent. The Department of Transportation requires airlines to provide a written statement that outlines a bumped passenger's rights.

If the airline can fly you to your destination within an hour of your original arrival time, you're generally not owed any compensation. If it's over an hour, the airline is required to offer Denied Boarding Compensation (DBC), which is determined by the delay time and flight cost.

For domestic flights delayed 1-2 hours, the DBC will be 200% of the one-way fare (up to $775). If the domestic flight is delayed over two hours, then you're entitled to 400% of the one-way fare (up to $1,550). For international flights, you'll receive 200% of one-way compensation up until a four-hour delay and 400% compensation for delays over four hours. Keep in mind that these compensation rates are the minimum an airline must offer, so negotiating for more is possible.

How to avoid being bumped

While there's no surefire way to avoid being bumped from a plane, there are a few things you can do to reduce the chances. If you really can't risk being bumped due to a wedding, cruise departure, special event, or work engagement, spend up to reserve your seat when you book your flight. Or, at least, check-in as soon as possible to receive a seat assignment. You're less likely to get bumped if your airline seat is reserved. Also, don't be late to your gate and board as soon as your section is called. 

If you do get bumped, don't lose your cool, but make sure to receive some sort of guarantee that your airport drama won't continue. Ask the gate representative to confirm your seat reservation on the proposed alternative flight to avoid the risk of getting bumped again. And if arriving on time is critical to your travel plans, then ask the representative if flying with another airline is an option. If you're polite and calm, airlines are typically willing to find a solution that minimizes your inconvenience.