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Bumped Off a Flight? Here's What the Airlines Should Do for You

Increasingly, airlines are overbooking flights to ensure full planes and eliminate unnecessary costs. But what happens when you get bumped from a flight? Here's what you need to know.
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This may be a familiar airport scene: You arrive early for a flight, but the plane has been overbooked. An airline attendant makes repeated--and enticing--appeals to give up your seat in return for a voucher or free accomodations.

You're tempted, but you have an appointment to make. Apparently, so does everyone else. The attendant is forced to bump fliers and suddenly you're standing at the gate watching your flight depart... without you.

But, according FlyersRights.org, formerly the Coalition for an Airline Passengers Bill of Rights, you have--you guessed it--rights. 

Under the Department of Transportation (DOT)'s latest flyer rights bill, bumped passengers are owed double their original ticket value--up to $650--for flights delayed less than two hours, and $1,300 for flights delayed more than two hours--which may be more than airline attendants are offering.

Recently, Bloomberg published the story of Mary Guernier, an AirTran traveller involuntarily bumped from her flight to Florida. Despite the four hour delay to her travel plans, Guernier was offered a voucher worth a few hundred dollars--which she accepted reluctantly, Bloomberg reports.

"The agent shoved the vouchers under my wife's nose just to get rid of her," her husband, William Guernier, told Bloomberg. He later filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation and received a check from AirTran for $1,165.

Airlines are getting better at predicting the number of passengers who show up for their flights--thus reducing your chances of being bumped--but here are a three things you can do to further minimize the damage.

Check in early.

According to the DOT, the last passengers to check-in are likely to be first on an attendant's radar when deciding whom to bump.

Save your seat.

Similarly, passengers without predetermined seating assigments may be easy targets for bumping.

Use those business miles.

"Airlines are reluctant to offend their most loyal passengers, so elite members of their frequent-flier programs are probably least likely to be involuntarily bumped," Bloomberg writes. Booking flights on your frequent-flyer card might help to solidify your VIF (Very Important Flyer) image.

For six additional flyer's rights that may be of interest, see Chris McGinnis' summary of the DOT's flyer bill of rights here.

Last updated: Jul 1, 2013

FRANCESCA FENZI | Staff Writer

Francesca Fenzi reports on entrepreneurship, technology and small business news from San Francisco. Her work has previously appeared in TIME, USA Today, Pop City and The Northside Chronicle.




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