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Know Your Rights! What to Expect When You Get Bumped from a Flight

So the airline bumped you from your flight. Now what? There’s a great deal of confusion about passengers’ rights and what exactly air travelers can do in such situations. Of course, the airline industry would love to keep it that way.  For travelers in the United States, here’s a brief primer on what to expect, what rights you have, and how you might actually profit from this inevitable fiasco.

First off, it’s important to understand the difference between voluntary and involuntary bumping. If you choose to give up your seat, your exact reimbursement becomes a simple negotiation between you and the airline. You have no specific legal rights in this scenario as it’s ultimately your decision to give up your seat. Also note that in instances beyond the airline’s control — i.e. your inbound flight was delayed or cancelled because of weather, air traffic control issues, etc. — they are typically not required to provide reimbursement.

We’re talking specifically about getting involuntarily bumped. For example, the airline oversold the flight and you drew the short straw. In this case, your rights entitle you to compensation based on how much of a delay you’re forced to endure. Here are the broad strokes:

  • No compensation if the delay is within one hour of your originally scheduled arrival time
  • 1-2 hours (or between 1-4 hours on international flights): 200% of your original one-way fare, up to a $650 (USD) maximum
  • More than 2 hours (or more than 4 hours for international flights) OR if the airline simply does not provide substitute flights: 400% of your original one-way fare, up to a $1,300 maximum

Two additional notes worth keeping in mind:

  • If there was no dollar amount associated with your fare (as in the case of travelers booking with frequent flyer miles), the fare is determined by the lowest fare paid in the same service class on your original flight.
  • Keep in mind that these timeframes are based on when your new (i.e. delayed) flights are scheduled to arrive.

Although the airlines would like you to believe otherwise, it’s all pretty straightforward. For the full details on your rights as an air traveler, check out the rather lengthy and comprehensive A Consumer Guide to Air Travel.

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