Taking a flight to your vacation or work destination has no doubt become the worst part of your journey. Heightened airport security regulations, soaring flight prices and inconvenient flight times make it difficult to look at the experience through they eyes of a consumer when one often feels like a sardine. With the subject of airline “overbooking” very much in the news, we wanted to highlight some resources to help you know your rights as a passenger. While social media is providing the comic relief, deep inside we are all saying, “This is really not funny.” It’s kind of scary.
Getting “bumped” is almost always voluntary, but here are some great tips to avoid any issues when heading out for your next flight.
Tips for Avoiding Being Bumped
TIP #1 – Get an advance seat assignment. Even if the airline only has a middle seat left to confirm, be sure you take it. Passengers with seat assignments are typically only bumped if they arrive late and their seat assignment is released.
TIP #2 – If you do not have an advance seat assignment, or you want to change your seat assignment, check-in online. Most airlines allow you to check-in online within 24 hours of departure. Seat assignments that were not available at the time of ticketing may be available, including unblocked frequent flyer seats and seat assignments of flyers upgraded to first class. Many airlines automatically upgrade premium flyers within 24-72 hours of departure; at which point their coach seat assignments may be released for pre-assignment.
Tip #3 – Get to the airport early. Some airlines reserve a portion of their seat assignment inventory for airport check-in. Also, make sure your name is placed on the “standby” seat assignment list. While your ticket may say “confirmed”, if you do not have a seat assignment, you will be treated by the airline as a “standby” customer. Seats that are held by no-show passengers or passengers that upgrade at check-in to first class are usually distributed to standby passengers in check-in order.
If you are faced with being bumped, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) provides the following tips for travelers faced with being involuntarily bumped and to those who may consider accepting a voucher to take another flight.
Know the lingo
Some confusion regarding compensation centers on the differences between “voluntary” bumping and “involuntary” bumping.
Voluntary bumping occurs when a passenger with a confirmed seat assignment agrees to give up his seat for negotiated compensation. This compensation is not regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT): The airlines give employees guidelines for bargaining with passengers, and they may select those volunteers willing to sell back their reservations for the lowest price. As a result, it is important that consumers ask the right questions (see below) before agreeing to give up their seats in exchange for a free ticket or voucher.
Know what questions to ask
If you volunteer to give up your seat in response to an airline offer of a free ticket, it is important passengers ask about alternate arrangements and restrictions for using compensation. Suggested questions include:
“Can you confirm me on a later flight with a seat assignment and what is the schedule?”
“Does the voucher or other compensation have an expiration date by when it must be used or redeemed?”
“Are there any ‘blackout dates’, such as holidays, when I can not use the voucher/ticket?”
“Can the voucher or other compensation be used for international travel?”
“Can I make a reservation using the voucher and how far in advance can I make it?”
Involuntary bumping occurs when an airline prohibits a paid passenger from boarding a flight because it has oversold the flight. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates compensation for involuntary bumping.
As a reminder, according to the DOT, overbooking is not illegal, and most airlines overbook their scheduled flights to a certain extent in order to compensate for no-shows. Passengers are sometimes left behind or “bumped” as a result. When an oversale occurs, the DOT requires airlines to ask people who aren’t in a hurry to give up their seats voluntarily, in exchange for compensation. Those passengers bumped against their will are, with a few exceptions, entitled to compensation.
Read all your Fly Rights from the Department of Transportation’s website. Happy travels from Singles Travel International.
Fly Rights – A Consumer Guide to Air Travel (U.S. Department of Transportation)
~submitted by Robin Zell, Director of Marketing for Singles Travel International