The Department of Transportation smacked Delta with a $375,000 fine for ignoring federal laws that require airlines to offer bumped passengers adequate compensation and an explanation of their rights. Inside, a listing of your options if an airline tries to bump you off their flight…
From the Department of Transportation:
Our rules require airlines to seek out people who are willing to give up their seats for some compensation before bumping anyone in- voluntarily. Here’s how this works. At the check-in or boarding area, airline employees will look for volunteers when it appears that the flight has been oversold. If you’re not in a rush to arrive at your next destination, you can give your reservation back to the airline in exchange for compensation and a later flight.
DOT has not said how much the airline has to give volunteers. This means carriers may negotiate with their passengers for a mutually acceptable amount of money-or maybe a free trip or other benefits. Airlines give employees guidelines for bargaining with passengers, and they may select those volunteers willing to sell back their reservations for the lowest price.
DOT requires each airline to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn’t. Those travelers who don’t get to fly are frequently entitled to an on-the-spot payment of denied boarding compensation. The amount depends on the price of their ticket and the length of the delay:
- If you are bumped involuntarily and the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to get you to your final destination (including later connections) within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, there is no compensation.
- If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to your one-way fare to your final destination, with a $400 maximum.
- If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (200% of your fare, $800 maximum).
- You always get to keep your original ticket and use it on another flight. If you choose to make your own arrangements, you can request an “involuntary refund” for the ticket for the flight you were bumped from. The denied boarding compensation is essentially a payment for your inconvenience.
When a flight is oversold and there are not enough volunteers, some airlines bump passengers with the lowest fares first. Once you have purchased your ticket, the most effective way to reduce the risk of being bumped is to get to the airport early. For passengers in the same fare class the last passengers to check in are usually the first to be bumped, even if they have met the check-in deadline.
Airlines may offer free transportation on future flights in place of a check for denied boarding compensation. However, if you are bumped involuntarily you have the right to insist on a check if that is your preference. Once you cash the check (or accept the free flight), you will probably lose the right to demand more money from the airline later on. However, if being bumped costs you more money than the airline will pay you at the airport, you can try to negotiate a higher settlement with their complaint department. If this doesn’t work, you usually have 30 days from the date on the check to decide if you want to accept the amount of the check. You are always free to decline the check(e.g., not cash it) and take the airline to court to try to obtain more compensation.
In a “number of instances” between January and July of last year, Delta didn’t ask for volunteers, explain why people were involuntarily chosen, or pay out adequate compensation. We doubt a relatively minor fine will teach Delta much of anything, but at least you can know your federal rights next time an airline tries to take back their seat.