Protect Yourself From Being Bumped Off A Flight

Kiplinger’s “Win the Bumping Game” offers some advice on how to minimize the chances you’ll get left behind when your airline overbooks a flight. The main thing you can do is arrive early—it’s the last-minute arrivals, or worse, those who buy their tickets a half hour before departure, who are most likely to get bumped. The other thing you can do is avoid Delta, Comair, or Atlantic Southeast, which have the worst records of bumping passengers, and stick with JetBlue, which has the best. And make sure you have a seat assignment if at all possible.

The worst times for bumping are Sunday night, Monday morning, Thursday night and Friday morning. It happens more often on heavily traveled routes like L.A.-to-NYC, but there’s not much you can do about that.

Airlines are required to ask for volunteers before resorting to bumping, and to offer those volunteers compensation, so if you’re a good bargainer this is your chance to score anything extra airline tickets, first class upgrades, and hotel stays. However, you shouldn’t trade in your ticket “until you have a confirmed seat on a later flight and know whether vouchers you’re offered have blackouts or reservations restrictions.”

Lacking volunteers, agents usually target the last passengers to arrive at the gate. If that happens to you, you’ll receive a written statement describing your rights (small comfort as you watch the plane depart) and promising you a seat on another flight. If you can be booked on a flight that will get you to your destination within one hour of your original arrival time, you’re entitled to nothing except maybe an apology. But if you’ll be one to two hours late, the airline owes you cash: the cost of the fare to your destination, up to $200. If you are delayed by more than two hours, the compensation doubles, to as much as $400.

“Win the Bumping Game” [Kiplinger]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. FatLynn says:

    This is a great reason to check in online before you get to the airport.

  2. GoBobbyGo says:

    “And although the odds are slim that you’ll get bumped involuntarily — about one in 10,000” in general

    But then:

    “If you really want to make that wedding, arrive at the airport at least an hour early, check your bags promptly, and make sure your spot on the plane is earmarked. ‘If you have a seat assignment, there’s a 99.9% chance you’re going,’ says Tom Parsons of the membership travel site”

    This seems to imply that getting a seat assigment changes your chance of getting bumped from 1-in-10,000 to 1-in-1,000, a tenfold INCREASE.

    Sounds like someone doesn’t understand numbers…

  3. FatLynn says:

    I hear you have a better chance of getting a seat if you are covered in salad dressing.

  4. RumorsDaily says:

    I’ve never actually been able to cash in the free trips, they have blackout dates and are often next to useless. Don’t bother doing them the favor.

  5. BlondeGrlz says:

    I got bumped by Delta once, even though we arrived at the airport an hour early for a 7 am flight. They put us on a USAirways flight instead, leaving 10 minutes earlier, going to the same location, and upgraded us to first class. Nice deal, right? Except the Delta employee didn’t check us into the original flight, so they cancelled our return tickets. It was a nightmare trying to get back, especially since they kept blaming us for “missing” or original fligt. Did I mention it was my honeymoon? I will never agree to be bumped EVER again.

  6. sonichghog says:

    Want to stay on the plane, check your wheelchair with your luggage.

  7. BigNutty says:

    I haven’t had to fly anywhere recently but in the past I would always volunteer to get bumped and collect the payoff (cash and tickets). I was not a business traveler so it didn’t matter what time or day I arrived at my destination.

  8. StevieD says:

    Sure I will volunteer to be bumped…. there are 5 kids under the age of 6 in my party, my granny with the bladder problem, Uncle Bob with a great case of the farts, and Aunt Suzie that reaks of salad dressing and Jim Beam.

    Please, Please, PLEASE bump me.

  9. faust1200 says:

    I think overbooking flights should be illegal. They are selling tickets to seats that don’t exist. How is that fair or moral in any way? Where else are you legally allowed to sell tickets to something that doesn’t exist?

  10. XTC46 says:

    @faust1200: Movie theaters, concerts, hotels, restaurants, etc

    Just about any place you can make a reservation will over reserve because they have an expected number of people who won’t show up. Some just have a much smaller impact when they are wrong.

  11. faust1200 says:

    I just wish I could ask “Now is this a ticket to the theoretical seat, room, etc. or the actual one?”

  12. louisb3 says:

    Does the 1-2 hours late thing apply if you’re scheduled to be later, or also if your new flight is behind schedule?

  13. yikz says:

    Delta and the feeder airlines for Delta all fly regional jets. The bulk of the RJ traffic for Delta is carried by several aircraft. The Canadair CRJ-40 and CRJ-50 are susceptible to some strange weight and balance issues during even the mildest weather conditions. The only way to make weight and balance with enough fuel to safely fly to most destinations is to bump 4 passengers. I sat in the Cincinnati airport in the C concourse during the mildest weather, and every gate was asking for 4 volunteers. I had a pilot give me the details while we waited for our plane. The pilot told me that it would have made more sense to move up to the CRJ-900 or several other larger RJ’s because they can carry more fuel without bumping passengers.

  14. durkzilla says:

    The only real way to guarantee you don’t get bumped involuntarily is to not buy a super saver ticket. I got bumped off a flight on United which I had checked in two hours early for and was flying on an airline I had elite frequent flyer status with, but because my ticket was the lowest price ticket I was bumped first.

    Needless to say, I was less than thrilled. The voucher never got used, in fact, I don’t think I’ve flown United since…

  15. loganmo says:

    @faust1200: Hotels do this all the time…back when I used to work for a major chain of limited service hotels (it shall remain nameless, but “Stay Smart”), we used to overbook the hotel by 2 or 3 rooms all the time. We know, statistically, that a certain number of people on a typical night would somehow not show up and not cancel. In fact, we got bonuses for having a “perfect fill” night which almost always required us to overbook in order to get the extra cash.

  16. jmschn says:

    Just got back from AZ and the return flight was oversold. They asked for volunteers and since I didn’t have to be anywhere at a given time, I gave up my seat for a free roundtrip to the continguous U.S.

  17. war59312 says:

    XTC46 and faust1200, it should still be illegal and it should be illegal for all industry including TV btw.

  18. godlyfrog says:

    @war59312: If done right, nobody gets hurt. The problem is when it’s not done right. You don’t overbook during a convention or holidays, for example, because there’s a good chance you won’t be able to find your guest a room at another hotel, either.

    Allowing hotels to overbook is what gets you cheap rates and special rates for funerals and the like. Without the ability to overbook, all the prices will go up.