Imagine you’re all set for your dream vacation, bags packed and excitement brewing, only to find out that your flight has been overbooked and you won’t be able to board. Talk about a major inconvenience! But what happens next? Will the airline compensate you for the trouble caused? In this article, we will discuss airline bumping and explore the rights of affected passengers.
Bumping, also known as Denied Boarding, only happens occasionally, when a flight is overbooked and there are more passengers scheduled to fly on the flight than the number of available seats. While it is not illegal for the airlines to deny boarding to a few of their passengers, this surely causes inconvenience to the affected person.
The Department of Transportation reported an increase in boarding denials in 2022. Airlines denied boarding to 0.17 out of every 10,000 passengers in 2021. In 2022, this number increased to 0.32 denials per 10,000 passengers. Frontier and Delta are the top airlines in the US for bumping passengers. Frontier had the most involuntary bumping, while Delta had the most voluntary bumping in 2022.
Why Airlines Deny Boarding
When I fly, I often come across people voluntarily giving up their seats when asked by the airline. I understand that the promise of airline vouchers or cash is tempting! However, it’s a different story when you’re forced to leave the flight against your will. This can disrupt your plans. Both situations can occur when airlines sell more tickets than there are seats. In such cases, the airline has to prevent some people from boarding.
Airlines generally oversell their flights to a certain extent in order to compensate for ‘No Shows’. Although, most of the time airlines predict ‘No Shows’ correctly, sometimes passengers show-up and the airlines have no choice but to deny boarding to extra passengers.
Airlines all over the world are legally allowed to oversell their flight and bump passengers off. To do that, the airlines must follow some protocols. They must first ask passengers to voluntarily give up their seats. If someone is willing to give up their ticket, the airline must compensate the person by offering a complimentary upgrade to the next flight, hotel stay, and free tickets.
However, if the issue remains unresolved, airlines resort to using an algorithm that considers frequent flyers and past flying behavior to determine which passengers will be removed from the flight before taking action.
Not all airlines engage in this practice of overselling seats. Most of the airlines sell tickets for available seats only, which significantly reduces the chance of overbooking and denied boarding.
Voluntary Bump & Passenger Rights
Voluntary bumping is when the passenger willingly gives up his seat after the airline requests them to do so. But give up your seat, not your right. When the airline approaches you to voluntarily bump your seat, they compensate you. In such events, the airline mostly offers vouchers, future travel credits, lounge access, free flight tickets, hotel stay (in case there are no flights available and your home is far from the airport), free upgrade, access to lounge, etc.
Involuntary Bump & Passenger Rights
In 2017, United Airlines flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked and four passengers were involuntarily selected to be deplaned. One of the passengers had to be removed forcibly and in the process, he got injured. The act was criticized widely after the video went viral and the three officers of the Chicago Department of Aviation were suspended.
After the incident, airlines became more cautious about handling such situations, where passengers are deplaned due to overbooking.
On rare occasions when you are forced off a booked flight, the airline has to get you to your destination within an hour of scheduled flight. If the airline fails to do so, the passenger is entitled to receive 200% of the one-way fare, up to $775 in compensation for a delay of up to one or two hours. And 400%, up to 1,550 for more than two hours delay.
Why do Airlines Overbook Their Flights?
“I would emphasize that there are many airlines that do not overbook their flights. However, for the ones that do, it is a matter of balancing the need for minimizing seat spoilage as a result of no-show factors and maximizing revenue”, said Harry Grewal from IATA.
For example, depending on the specific route, departure time, and a series of other operational factors and characteristics associated with a flight, some customers may not be able to make it to the airport or boarding gate for a designated time. This can include late arrival to the airport, misconnections, or other unforeseen circumstances.
As a result, there often is a percentage of no-shows associated with a flight. In some cases, airlines are able to perform analysis on historical data and determine what the probable no-show factor would be for a flight. Taking this into consideration, some flights may then be overbooked, with a recognition that more often than not, an overcommitment between customers wishing to fly and seats available, will not occur.
This, however, is not a perfect science, and therefore contingencies are often put in place when everyone does show up. Such as asking for customers to volunteer to be rebooked, compensation etc.
How Airline Bumping Works Across the World
According to the US Department of Transportation, overbooking is not illegal. Most American airlines overbook their flights to a certain extent to avoid ‘No Shows’. In the event of an oversale, airlines are required by the DOT to request passengers to consider voluntarily surrendering their seats in exchange for compensation.
In case of involuntary passenger bumping, airlines are required by law to provide affected passengers with a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier determines which passengers will be bumped off. Those faced with such circumstances are entitled to receive monetary compensation, although the specific terms for compensation may differ.
However, if the airline arranges an alternate flight for you that arrives within an hour of your original scheduled arrival time, then you will not receive any monetary compensation.
But in case, the alternate flight arrives between one and two hours after the original flight’s arrival time, the airline must pay an amount equal to 200% of your one-way fare to your final destination. For international flights, the time may get up to four hours.
Additionally, if the alternate flight arrives two hours (four hours in case of international flights) or the airline doesn’t arrange any alternate arrangement, then the passenger is entitled to receive 400% of your one-way fare, $1,350 being the maximum.
If the passenger opt for arranging their own transportation, they can demand for a refund for the ticket of the flight you were bumped from.
The European Union has implemented a series of regulations aimed at ensuring that passengers receive fair compensation and assistance in cases of flight overbooking, cancellation, or prolonged delays. These rules apply to all flights departing from and within EU airports. In case of overbooking, airlines must find passengers who are willing to give up their seats in exchange for compensation, the amount of which is determined by the distance covered during the journey.
EUR 250 for all flights of 1,500 km or less.
EUR 400 for all flights within the EU more than 1,500 km and less than 3,500 km.
EUR 600 for a distance over 3,500 km outside the EU.
In India, airlines have more capacity than demand and so overbooking happens only on rare occasions and on less popular routes. However, the flight overbooking law is similar to those of the US and EU, and the passenger bumped off the flight due to overbooking are entitled to compensation.
While overbooking is not common in India, if it happens, then the airline is obligated to provide the affected passengers with an amount equal to 200% of booked one-way base fare plus fuel surcharge or a maximum of Rs 10,000 if the subsequent transportation is scheduled to depart within 24 hours of booked departure.
If the alternate transportation is departing after 24-hours than the original departure, then the affected passenger is entitled to receive 400% of booked one-way basic fare plus fuel surcharge or a maximum of Rs 20,000.
If the passenger doesn’t like the alternate arrangement or opt to make their own arrangement, then the airline must offer the person a complete refund of the ticket and compensation equal to 400% of booked one-way basic fare plus fuel surcharge or maximum of Rs 20,000.
Why Airlines Are Bumping More Passengers
The airline business is all about supply and demand and in post pandemic years, airlines are finding it difficult to predict demand. Airlines still rely on pre-pandemic data for their travel forecasts, The travel patterns of passengers are undergoing significant transformations, primarily due to the rise of remote work options. And hence, it is difficult for the airline to predict ‘No shows’.
How Do Airlines Decide Who Gets Bumped
According to Harry Grewal, Director Airport Infrastructure & Customer Experience at IATA, airlines have the right to refuse a seat to passengers based on a range of factors. These may include the type of ticket purchased, passenger classification, check-in time, and frequent flyer loyalty status. Moreover, airlines adopt a comprehensive approach when assessing whether or not to deny someone a seat on their flight. They take into consideration aspects like onward connections, checked baggage and even the purpose behind the passenger’s travel plans.
How Can I Prevent Myself From Getting Bumped?
There are ways to prevent yourself from getting bumped by the airline. Get yourself the airline’s frequent flyer membership. Don’t buy basic fare tickets and always take a seat assignment even if you do not like the seat. If you frequently travel by flight, try to book with the same airline to earn miles and points as elite loyalty members are less likely to be bumped.
Also, even if you have a digital boarding pass, it is best to get yourself a paper boarding pass as well. Digital boarding passes can be modified by the airline easily.
Another hack is having checked baggage. Airlines generally approach those passengers who don’t have checked baggage. It is because unloading a luggage from the cargo hold causes more delays and inconvenience. So, if you don’t want to be deplaned or denied boarding, it is best to have your luggage checked at the airport counter.
Is There Any Difference in Compensation Between Voluntary and Nonvoluntary Denied Boarding?
The compensation depends on various factors, including the airline’s policies and the country’s specific jurisdiction. If any of the passengers voluntarily decides to deboard the flight when asked by the airline, the airline may offer compensation. Although the airline is not obligated to provide compensation, it can instead negotiate with the customer. The compensation may include a complete refund, upgrades, alternate flights, meal or hotel vouchers.
For involuntary deboarding, airlines are required to provide the affected passenger with compensation. It includes an alternate flight arrangement, cash or both. Moreover, there are many factors to take into consideration i.e., domestic vs. international flights, reason or cause of the disruption, fare of the ticket etc.
In many cases, regulators will highlight what the minimum compensation level must be, depending on the circumstances; however, the airline may go above and beyond that.
Below is a table of what The Department of Transportation, US, has stipulated for compensation based on domestic vs. international flights and the degree of disruption.
|Length of Delay||Compensation Owed|
|Arrival delayed 0 to 1 hours||No compensation|
|Arrival delayed 1 to 2 hours||200% of the one-way fare (or $775 if the 200% of the one-way fare is higher)|
|Arrival delayed by more than 2 hours||400% of the one-way fare (or $1,550 if the 400% of the one-way fare is higher)|
|Length of Delay||Compensation Owed|
|Arrival delayed 0 to 1 hours||No compensation|
|Arrival delayed 1 to 4hours||200% of the one-way fare (or $775 if the 200% of the one-way fare is higher)|
|Arrival delayed by more than 4 hours||400% of the one-way fare (or $1,550 if the 400% of the one-way fare is higher)|
What to Do if You are Not Satisfied with the Compensation?
To effectively deal with your concern, it is recommended that you approach the airline directly and give them an opportunity to respond. In case this doesn’t yield satisfactory results, you can consider escalating the issue to a third-party reviewer or regulator, depending on the specific airline and jurisdiction involved.
What if due to ‘deny boarding’ you miss your connecting flight? In such an event, the airline may let you fly and select someone with less inconvenience.
The aviation industry is witnessing a gradual resurgence in both flight frequency and passenger load factor, with some markets and sectors now reaching pre-pandemic levels of 2019. This highlights the significance of operational excellence in managing higher passenger loads, encompassing seamless processes from booking to check-in, baggage drop-off, and punctual performance.