How To Avoid Getting Bumped From A Flight

Tips for protecting against getting bumped from a flight, courtesy of the July issue of Kiplinger’s we found on the airplane this weekend.

• Show up on time
• Check-in through the internet
• Pay full price for your ticket
• Have beacoup frequent-flyer miles

Continental is also said to be the airline with the highest amount of bumped passengers.

Have you ever been bumped? Was there anything you learned that you would do differently next time? Let us know in the comments. — BEN POPKEN

(Photo: Ben Popken)


Edit Your Comment

  1. BruserJack says:

    It’s very easy to not get bumped from a flight. Not just show up on time but show up early. It’s the late arrivals that are the easiest targets. As a former professional wrestler who has traveled this globe 10 times over I can remember being bumped maybe 12 times. EVERY one of those times, I was within 20 minutes of boarding when I checked in.

    Get there EARLY folks!

  2. roothorick says:

    Given, I’ve never flown before, but how can people find it acceptable to be “bumped” from a flight? You paid for your seat on a specific flight at a specific time. If I got bumped I’d be calling my lawyer.

  3. snazz says:

    once i got bumped simply for being among the last three people to board the plane. i was fliying one of those tiny commuter planes from rochester to nyc, and it was over the weight limit. so simply because i boarded among the last three people, i had to wait for another flight 5 hours later. i didnt mind, i like getting bumped and try to do it all the time.

  4. iMike says:

    Two practical points (show up on time; check in online); the others, not so much.

    And for the tough guy just above: the contract of carriage that governs your relationship to the airline permits them to bump you if that have to. In practice, they’ll ask for volunteers in exchange for some kind of payment. 98% of the time, that results in no involuntary bumps.

  5. vr4z06gt says:

    @roothorick: they intentionally overbook flights knowing that some people will either change their ticket or just not show up, its in the terms of your sale and transport if you read the back of the ticket. When they do bump they are “suppost” to put you on the next available flight operated by either them or another airline whom they deal with in these situations, southwest sucks because they don’t do this with anyone so its them or nothing, the bigger guys will pretty much ‘buy’ you a ticket on any other airline. If they can’t get you out of the airport in a reasonable time then they put you in hotel.

    Welcome to air travel in the US…its much better if your an elite thou ;)

  6. vr4z06gt says:

    on another note, ive never been ‘bumped’ thankfully, however ive been stuck in places for days due to either weather or ‘mechanical problems’, the airlines catch all for “we fucked up”, problems. The worst was 3 days late, to fly from bdl to phl, it was leisure travel so i didn’t mind, but i could only take the last flight out each day, which was at 5pm(?? doesn’t make any sense) and sure enough Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday it got messed up. But i didn’t mind spent a few more days on vacation free first class the whole way, and then some, and a free voucher.

  7. Major-General says:

    You get compensation. They ask for volunteers first. Basically, in your contract of carriage it states what you will get if they bump you, as per federal law, and and pretty much you can’t sue over it because you pay to be transported from one location to another, not so much for a specific flight. There are a variety of reasons for getting bumped, usually the flight is oversold.

    I had opportunity if I didn’t have checked luggage when I went to Amsterdam to get $750 from the airline for giving up my seat and instead take a later flight. I paid $650, so the compensation if your schedule is flexible can be really good.

  8. enm4r says:

    If I’m not in a hurry, I’m more than willing to be bumped. I fly often, and in the days of wifi in airports and plugins for my laptop, I’ll just as soon wait an extra few hours if it means my next ticket is free. As was mentioned above, I can’t remember that many times where there weren’t more than enough volunteers, so much so that only the first few got the goodies. I don’t think involuntary bumps are all that common (maybe they are moreso on little planes flying from regional aiports?) though I’d like to see some statistics.

  9. LucyBoo says:

    We were bumped off a Continental flight to China. One thing we noticed was that all of our fellow bumpees were also famlies. There were about 4 famlies of between 3-5 members each who were involuntarily bumped. Everyone was outraged, “How DARE they bump famlies with babies and toddlers?” But it made perfect sense to me. If they bump a family, the gate staff only has to deal with one or two ranting adult passengers per group. The child passengers won’t give them a hard time. If they bumped the same number of individuals then they would have more people screaming at them, more people to arrange alternate flights for.

  10. Arlahna says:

    I have a question that maybe someone who flies more often than I do might have an answer to. When checking in online, how do you check in your luggage??

  11. B says:

    @Arlahna: The kiosk prints out baggage tags for you, and you take the bags and tags and bring them to the counter, where the clerk asks if you remembered to not pack any bombs.

  12. EtherealStrife says:

    First two are great advice.

    The third is about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. A ticket is a ticket. Just because someone got ripped for an extra $50 means they deserve the seat more than I do?

    The fourth was true at one time, but not so much now.

  13. BelBivDevolkswagen says:

    I try to voluntarily take bumps from Continental all the time – usually they issue me a voucher for a free flight and many times they’ve upgraded me to first class on the next flight…

  14. EtherealStrife says:

    @LucyBoo: Probably a Continental employee on the plane who was owed a favor. Screaming whining kids on a flight to China? No thank you.
    I’m hoping the TSA gets around to issuing mandatory gags and straight jackets for the children. They certainly interfere with the runnings of the plane more than my 3.5 oz containers.

  15. hc5duke says:

    I fly Continental all the time with no problem, yet I hear all these bad things about them. Then again, maybe flying with them exclusively has given me enough miles (I usually get just enough to NOT qualify for silver elite membership) that they like me…

  16. V-effekt says:

    US airways Contract of Carriage states what others also do: ‘Special efforts will be made to never involuntarily deny boarding to customers requiring special assistance or unaccompanied minors.’

    If you can’t afford to be bumped, claim some sort of special assistance need and you have a good chance of not getting bumped. Quoting their contract of carriage also helps sometimes. Often you can get a better deal on compensation than what they offer you. If you take what they offer it is over.

    for example…

  17. TechnoDestructo says:

    @LucyBoo: “”How DARE they bump famlies with babies and toddlers?””

    I’d make a point of bumping them just for the likelihood that they’d take this attitude.

    I guess I’m not surprised Continental would be the worst. In all other respects, they’ve been the best US airline I’ve ever flown, so it makes sense that they’d have more business than they can handle.

  18. Brazell says:

    Whenever I travel alone, for work or whatever, I usually opt to be bumped on the return flight… because you usually get better accomodations on the following flight, or some sort of reward (first class, etc).

  19. Brazell says:

    You were probably bumped because of the obvious irony of flying to China on an airline called “Continental.” You’d think they’d be called “Intercontinental” if they’re going to China.


  20. pestie says:

    I fly Southwest almost exclusively and I’ve never been bumped. But then, I check in online and show up 2 hours before my flight, so…

  21. hc5duke says:

    @MichaelBrazell: the flight’s only called intercontinental when they eat french toast

  22. Sudonum says:

    I’ve been flying Continental almost exclusivly for the last 10 years and have never been on a flight where someone was bumped. I guess I’ve been lucky.

  23. Omri says:

    I have a question about the fourth point. Is that just the idea that elites get bumped less often, or is the idea that you should actually keep a ton of miles in your account?

    I thought that the new conventional wisdom was to never, ever, ever hoard miles – 18 month expirations, constantly degrading value, etc. These seem like pretty decent arguments for spending your miles as soon as you can get something for them, especially since it’s not really that bad to get bumped these days.

  24. bfields says:

    I recently flew with on a discount ticket and ended up on standby for an overbooked flight. While I made it on the flight for the first leg, I decided to hedge my bets and upgraded my seat to “economy plus” (or whatever it was called) for the second leg. For $20 extra I had a guaranteed seat, not ideal but it worked.

  25. mzito says:

    A few points:
    – Some people actually angle to have their flights be overbooked, as they want the compensation

    – For all flights, they will “OpUp” people before asking for volunteers – give some people a free upgrade to first/business class. This is almost always done based on “who paid the most for the ticket” and/or “who is the most elite flyer” – they’re often the same people, but not always.

    – compensation is totally negotiable, but on many airlines the gate agents have the option of offering a free ticket voucher (generally a bad deal) or monentary vouchers (often the better option). Depending on how badly overbooked the flight is, you may also be able to negotiate yourself meal vouchers, a first class ticket, etc. Just like any other negotiation, have your price in mind – I’ve often turned down bumps because they wouldn’t put me in first class on the next flight. Of course, the FA is free to move to the next person on the list, and you get nothing (except the actual flight).

    – Typically the flights most likely to be overbooked are international long-haul flights (flights that are once a day, etc.), and hub-hub flights that have highly variable load based on connections, missed and otherwise. Getting bumped on an international flight can be the jackpot, especially when its overnight and they have to provide you with a hotel room, taxi and meal vouchers, and between 500 and 1000 dollars in travel compensation.

    – If you are allowing yourself to be bumped, make sure that you know what flight you are being confirmed on. I’ve seen some travelers get confirmed on a flight 6 hours later when they think they’re on the next flight out – but of course, the GA has only put them on the standby list for the next, also-overbooked, flight.

  26. dopusman says:

    If you watch that Airport show about Southwest you get the impression that involuntary bumps happen all the time, and at least with Southwest there’s nothing you can do about it – wait until there’s a seat available, or get your money back and try your luck with another airline.

    The worst thing seems to be that once you’re bumped (at least with Southwest) you’re then on standby until something comes up. So it’s not like they’ll bump someone on the next flight to make space for you – if the rest of the flights for the day are full you’re basically just left sitting there hoping someone else doesn’t show up.

  27. whickey says:

    As someone who travels 110K plus miles a year I will tell you this…

    1. DO sign up for the frequent flier program of the airlines you are flying. You may not be an elite customer, but if the bump list is between you as a member of their Frequent Flier program vs. someone who is not, you will step ahead of the line. (I know this to be true with American and US Airways)

    2. People may tout the Rule 240 and think it is a life saver to get you what you want. I have seen people scream this and the airlines laugh in their face. Rule 240 is not something the airlines are forced to honor, they honor it because they want to be nice people. Rule 240 only saves you when the delay or flight cancelation is DIRECTLY the airlines fault. Those reasons are: a. Flight Crew unavailable due to expiring, b. Plane is broken c. or some other boner that they make. This does NOT cover you for a. weather b. air traffic control sucking c. anything that the airlines claims is out of their control.

    3. Airlines will ALWAYS give the passenger with the higher priced ticket the seat before someone who spent less. People who spend more money on the ticket are attractive customers because you are helping them make profit. There was one time where I was on a flight from DET -> BOS and I beat 15 people on an oversold flight on an airline I had no status with because my ticket was $900. (direct flights to DET from Boston are VERY expensive on week days because of the hub system)

    4. DO NOT expect any rights or any assistance from airlines on a ticket purchased on Priceline or Hotwire. Those tickets are set in stone, and many ticket agents will not be very helpful. Some may be sympathetic and help you out in changing your flight, but I have witnessed plenty of people with Priceline tickets told that they could do NOTHING to change their travel plans.

    5. If American Airlines spills Jet Fuel on your suit bag on a American Eagle flight from JFK->BOS, the best they will offer you is a free cleaning. Of all the horrors I have experienced, this is the only time I have absolutely lost it when traveling.

    6. When traveling, stay calm. I always see people really pissed off non stop and think that yelling will get you anything you want. It won’t. Plus you wind up looking like the biggest horses ass to everyone else.

  28. whickey says:

    It isn’t how many miles are in your account as much as how many qualifying elite miles you have flown. So I could have only 5,000 miles in my account, but for the year I have flown 75,000 qualifying miles. They look at the latter.

  29. LucyBoo says:

    When Continental bumped us, they couldn’t get us out until 2 days later. One of the other famlies had it even worse. They were heading to China for an extended trip and had sublet their apartment, so they had no home to return to. Continental would only pay for one night in a hotel. They had to pay for the another night themselves. Yes, we did get compensated with flight vouchers, but I really don’t want to fly them again if I can help it. BTW, our luggage was luckier than we were and went ahead to Beijing even though they promised they would remove it from the flight.

  30. mzito says:

    Also, something to keep in mind is that many of the LCCs (low cost carriers) like southwest and jet blue are not IATA members. The implication there is that during irregular operations, IATA members can sign tickets over to each other – so if you’ve ever been bumped off a united flight and put on an american airlines flight instead, its because they’re IATA members and they basically “settle up” reciprocally quarterly.

    Southwest and Jet blue cannot sign tickets over to other airlines. From a customer support perspective, the way they’ve dealt with this is to have a manager walk over to the other airline and simply buy a ticket on the corporate card on behalf of the passenger, but its at the discretion of the manager whether they want to do that, whereas with mainline airlines there’s a number of situations where agents are allowed to sign people over.

    Southwest’s customer service is generally considered excellent, though, so I don’t think its something to worry about, but it is another data point in the LCC vs. mainline airline debate

  31. yg17 says:


    That’s not enough. I say we put them all in the baggage hold

  32. LAGirl says:

    GREAT photo. icky. but, great. wonder how long Ben had that one filed away before he found the ‘perfect’ fit?

  33. CLEADD says:

    I’m actually surprised to hear complaints about Continental. Maybe it’s because I live in a Continental hub city and have good flight selections, but I think they’re a great airline. No nonsense, straightforward and I gladly use them 99% of the time. While I’m not exactly Gold, I do fly about once a month. I’m with other posters above. I love the opportunity to volunteer.

    Not that I never have problems, but I don’t expect perfect travel. My most painful trip in recent memory was actually on NWA. Two segments on that airline made me very grateful to be able to fly Continental. It’s amazing how different other airlines are when you’re used to a certain level of service.