Delta Fined $375,000 For Bumping Passengers

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:

Voluntary bumping

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.

Involuntary bumping

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.

DOT fines Delta $375k over ‘bumped’ passengers [AP]
A Consumer Guide to Air Travel [The Department of Transportation]
(Photo: zonaphoto)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    So shouting “tic tac toe no takebacks!” faster than the other passengers doesn’t actually work when the airline tries to bump me?

    That explains a lot.

  2. jaydez says:

    When I flew from Hartford to a small municipal airport in SC last week (one connector each way: BDL – ATL – FLO) on Delta, every single one of the 4 flights was overbooked. The last one from ATL to BDL was announced as overbooked but when the plane took off there were a few open seats still (including the one next to me, yay!)

    • HRHKingFridayXX says:

      @jaydez: the same thing happened to me on DCA – LAS last week. After delays due to being “oversold” or some such, there was an empty seat… not next to me though :(

    • nucwin83 says:

      @jaydez: Why the hell were you going to Florence? I always wonder what people fly in there for… (used to live there, family is still there)

      I flew from GSP to LGA and there was a grand total of 4 people on the flight. Return flight from LGA to GSP had a whopping 7 people. Go figure.

    • notanignoramus says:

      @jaydez: It’s possible that the “overbooking” on the ATL-BDL segment was actually a weight and balance issue. The airline would probably not announce that because then people get freaked out about safety. Takeoff and flight performance are both affected by heat and humidity, and it has been exceptionally hot in the south for the last two weeks. It sounds like they needed to keep those seats empty in order to maintain a safe W/B.

  3. hills says:

    I wish these same rules applied when flights are delayed or cancelled – 2 hours late = compensation. Never gonna happen, but one can dream…..

    • anduin says:

      theyre usually not delayed because of dumb reasons (USUALLY), Ive only ever been delayed once by some dumb woman who decided to shop an extra 20 min at duty free while an air plane full of people waited. Those people should be given no pass.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        @anduin: she didn’t get lynched mid air by the other passengers? i think the flight attendants might even look the other way for that one

      • sponica says:

        @anduin: i was delayed because there WAS NO FLIGHT CREW….just a perfectly good plane sitting outside teasing us. i consider that dumb.

        • my secret identity says:

          @sponica: I once spent 11 hours in Miami International Airport. We boarded the plane, everything seemed fine, and then we were told to get off the plane immediately. We got off and were told that there were “technical difficulties.” 8 hours later it turned into “for the last 8 hours, the crew was repairing the altimeter.” Good to know. We waited another hour before we heard “The law mandates that the crew and pilots for this flight must be replaced. They cannot work a certain number of hours in one day.” And finally two hours later we boarded again, and took off.

    • jamar0303 says:

      @hillsrovey: Once upon a time (OK, a week and a half ago) my delay was due to someone coming in with swine flu. They had to round up the passenger and disinfect the whole plane.

  4. AngryK9 says:

    Flights are oversold intentionally. The theory behind it is that if you have 100 seats available, sell 105 seats because it is inevitable that at least 5 people will cancel or not show.

    That only works out on paper, of course. In reality, not so much.

    If they’d stop intentionally overbooking flights, it would eliminate so many problems…

    • Coles_Law says:

      @AngryK9: They’d also increase fares accordingly. It’s a lousy practice when it burns you, but the fact is people don’t always show up.

      • LJKelley says:

        @Coles_Law: I disagree that it would increase fares. If they sell 100 tickets and 5 people don’t show up then the still sold 100 tickets (hopefully non refundable). Passengers should purchase insurance for sickness etc and be required to cancelled atleast 48 hours prior. If they cancel within 48 hours they should only get a refund if their seats resells. Otherwise 48 Hours is plenty time for the Airlines as there are alot of late bookings or standby passengers. Or they could play with it to 72 hours of whatever. Point is there are many options rather than overbooking (and that includes Hotels, Rental Cars, etc…)

        • Coles_Law says:

          @LJKelley: True, but airlines will rebook late passengers on a later flight. they’re now taking up a spot on a later flight that wasn’t “sold”. Some airlines charge a $75 fee to do this, but that’s still less than the cost of a full ticket.

          Don’t get me wrong, I love your idea as it puts the responsibility on those who don’t show up. I’ll bet the screams of the tardy would echo long and far were this policy to be implemented though.

          Oh, and I 100% support your idea for hotels. Unlike airlines, very few no-shows are going to show up a day later in need of a room.

          • BigSlowTarget says:

            Ticket bought in advance = $150
            Ticket bought last minute = $900
            Overbooking penalty 0 – $400

            Is there any question why it makes $ sense to overbook? Basically if a business traveler makes a late ticket purchase on a full flight you just got outbid for your seat. Rejecting that sale because the flight might be full is at best (from point of view of the airline) rejecting the $900 sale in favor of the $150 sale and at worst rejecting $900 for a seat that would otherwise be empty.

            It would be the fair and right thing to do, but not the profitable one and you’d better believe the costs would pass through.

        • Tim says:

          @LJKelley: The airlines have undoubtedly figured out an exact formula for overselling. That is to say, they have figured out the cost of compensating bumped passengers vs. the cost of flying with empty seats. They’ve found a perfect formula for the number of seats to oversell, and it probably considers things like the destination of the flight, the time of the year, the time of day, etc. It’s down to a science.

    • Chris R says:

      @AngryK9: This happened to me and my family when we were flying from S. Korea to Hawaii in ’91. However, since they were overbooked in coach, we got bumped up to First Class. Best. Flight. EVER!!!

  5. H3ion says:

    It’s nice to see that even if it’s only $375,000, at least someone is taking it seriously. Without some oversight, air travel would be even more of a zoo than it is.

    • Radi0logy says:

      @H3ion: And meanwhile, Delta’s order of 18 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, at a unit cost of about 175 million each, appears to be on track for delivery in 2009! But yeah, that $375,000 fine, that smarts, lemme tell you.

  6. locura79 says:

    I haven’t flown Delta since they bumped my husband & me during our honeymoon. We were in San Juan (which a really crappy airport), and we were informed that our plane had been “downsized” and we would have to take a later flight. We told them that we wanted compensation for being bumped to a later flight, but they insisted that we hadn’t been bumped. I pointed out that our original flight was still scheduled to take off on time, but we weren’t being let on the plane due to space, and therefore we had been bumped (this seems like the definition to me). They wouldn’t even let us wait the extra 4 hours in the first class lounge, must less compensate us for the inconvenience. We had to sit on the floor of the overcrowded San Juan airport. It was a great end to our honeymoon.

    • Alessar says:

      @locura79: Wow, according to this article they owed you serious bucks. Sorry you had a cruddy end to your honeymoon. :(

      • jp says:


        I don’t think so. The article referances “over-booking” as the cause, hence, the need for compensation. OP said her plane was “downsized”. The reason for a plane ‘downsize’ i.e., substitute smaller plane is usually always due to a mechanical problem on the original (larger)plane. The ‘bumping’ here is due to plane size substitution (not over-booking) therefore no fault of the airline (their view).

        • ktetch says:

          @jp: To paraphrase financial services adverts ‘the size of aircraft can go up as well as down’

          First time I ever flew delta, which was also my first trip to the US (9 years 11 months ago to the day) I was flying Manchester – ATL – LAX. For the second leg, they had to change the aircraft. We got an L1011, much bigger than the one we were supposed to have. They made us sit pretty much in our assigned order, just so they knew who was where for the special meals, and emergency procedures, but once we were in the air, we could spread out.

          Shame really, as there was this really nice girl, about my age (18-19), supposed to be sitting next to me, nice and sporty (her tennis racquet was her carry-on). Alas, when it came time, she moved to the empty row behind us….
          c’est la vie.

          Anyway, JP, the number of actual seats for the flight, was smaller than the number of seats sold for the flight. It doesn’t matter that there was supposed to be a bigger aircraft, it’s the aircraft that actually does the flight. Else, they could just claim ‘well, we were going to use an A380 on this flight, but you’ll have to make do with the 777, and so because we’ve downsized the aircraft, you don’t get anything, suckers.

  7. JoeDirt says:

    Delta truly is the worst airline I have ever flown.

    • cluberti says:

      @JoeDirt: Which is really sad, because back when I used to fly Delta (1990s) they were one of the best airlines for a frequent traveler. I guess they’ve downsized to the point they’re no better (perhaps even worse?) than the others now?

      • JoeDirt says:

        @cluberti: Yeah, they are worst than A.A. now. Not to mention their hub in Atlanta has the dumbest, rudest employees of any airport I have ever been in.

    • ARP says:

      @JoeDirt: I think everyone has their own, worst. airline. ever. Mine is US Airways. A friends is United. Some of it is simply luck and some is simply that most US based airlines suck and we’ve been lucky enough to only experience suck-lite on some.

      • JoeDirt says:

        @ARP: I agrees wholeheartedly.

      • trujunglist says:


        I personally hate every airline, but find Southwest to be the most tolerable. Delta is one of my most hated because of what they’ve done in their terminal here in San Diego. It’s like stabbing yourself (or stubbing your toe – someone got mad recently that I was referring to stabbing myself so they suggested toe stubbing instead) repeatedly, and then having someone else stab you also. I honestly wondered how such a colossal failure could have ever been created in the first place and then not fixed when it was realized what a clusterfuck it was. Just an example of it:
        Another passenger: You mean we have to wait in this line first, then get into another line to actually give you our bags, THEN get into the security line? Why isn’t the initial line just one line?
        Delta employee: Well, 9/11 changed how we had to do things.
        Another passenger: Yeah, but Southwest has a smaller terminal area than this and gets it done with less employees in one line and it takes 1/10th of the time. Is it always like this?
        Delta employee: Every. Single. Day.

        • JoeDirt says:

          @trujunglist: I agree with Southwest being the most tolerable. I recently had a bad flight with Delta, complained, then was given $100 credit to be used on their website. I told them to keep it. I bought a Southwest ticket last week for $200 more than the Delta ticket would have cost me. Because Delta will never get a red cent from me again.

  8. DearEditor says:

    Someone ought to write a country song about this…

  9. the_gank says:

    I hope I don’t get bumped by them when I fly soon…… :-)

    May be this is a heads up alert … for who?

  10. burnedout says:

    So, the airline gets fined the $375K, but how did they figure out this was happening? Complaints? Spies at the airport? I only ask b/c I wonder if any of the affected customers get some sort of compensation for being essentially robbed like this.

    • ARP says:

      @burnedout: I wonder if the penalty is effective. Did they save more than $375k through this practice. If so, it’s just another cost of doing business.

      • trujunglist says:


        You can bet your sweet ass (I dunno if it really is but you can count that as a compliment) that Delta came out ahead anyway. I can imagine that very, very few people actually put up any fight against Delta or the employees were forceful and demanding about it and the passenger was afraid to fight back for fear of getting bumped permanently/detained. Or it could have been simply passively accepted by the passenger, especially considering all the expectations of fees, random taxes, and headaches involved in air travel. It’s almost expected by the passenger that they will not get anything at this point with how unpleasant flying is nowadays.
        Considering how much Delta oversells their flights, I’d say that at least 100 people a day et bumped a day. Let’s say that Delta did not bother to give them free anything even though they probably needed to pay at least $400 in many cases. that’s $40,000. In one day. It wouldn’t take more than 2 weeks to get the money back from this lawsuit! These are only imaginary numbers and could be much less, but I tend to doubt it.

  11. VodkaFish says:

    I’m pretty sure my wife and I experienced this with Delta just two weeks ago. We were at the airport, checked in through the kiosk, and then waited for over an hour for our luggage to be checked in.

    We weren’t just anonymous on a line, after checking in we immediately spoke with someone to make sure we wouldn’t have issues (as the terminal was busy). We were moved to a counter with other people going on the same flight trying to get to the same cruise. They were all waiting for a while already. There were only two groups in front of us.

    The counter people simply kept saying “please wait here” or “be right with you”, etc.

    None of us made the flight. None of us made the cruise (yes, we “missed the boat”).

    We waited around a couple of hours arguing and were offered nothing but another flight to the same location much later in the day. We knew we were entitled to more, but nothing came of it. The offer of the same location wasn’t good because the cruise was gone by then and we’d then have to get yet another flight. The boat didn’t dock for two days.

    No matter what we asked for, we were told nothing could be done other than get to the same city (no first class) or a refund. We were inevitably herded out after being coaxed into a refund. After making many, many calls and knowing what I know now, we never would have taken it (once you do, they won’t even bother listening to you). At the airport they told us to call customer service during normal business hours, but customer service told us that they can’t do as much as anyone at the airport. Joseph Heller wasn’t this frustrated.

    We wound up taking a flight the next day with another airline to get where we needed to go (and stayed overnight). We ran into one of the families from the airport on the cruise. They hung around the airport much longer (many hours) and eventually fought to get where we all needed to go (not convenient flights, but did get first class – and – they didn’t have to pay like we did). I apparently lost a war of patience and not wanting to be that loud person at the airport.

    Still, pay or no pay, we all missed two days of vacation.

    No one ever found out why none of us were able to get on the flight.

    Thanks Delta.

    • jp says:

      Probably a plane downsize due to mechanical problems on the original larger plane. No compensation is required. Its not considered over-booking.

    • trujunglist says:


      That’s exactly what they expect. They want to first make you feel bad for even asking about it, even though you’re entitled to it. If not that, then intimidation “This is the only thing I can do for you, take it or leave it”


      Doesn’t seem like that to me. It sounds more like this guy lives in San Diego and had to deal with the insane lines that Delta puts you through just because they’re unbelievably bad at efficiency. This doubly helps them to oversell a flight because they can count on people getting stuck in line.
      I was in line 2 hours prior to a flight via Delta recently and still had to run to the gate and barely made it on before they closed the door. Probably attempting to oversell and look innocent. Ho hum, lame.

      • VodkaFish says:

        @trujunglist: I’m in NY. I’m used to lines. I’m even used to bad situations. I’m just not used to being lied to/ignored quite like that.

        Oh – and I forgot one of the best parts – Delta charged me baggage fees for the bags they never actually checked in. Amex will be good about that, at least.

  12. H3ion says:

    Delta already has its hands full with flight attendants that can’t fit into the new uniforms.


    Apparently, the garments are only made up to a size 18 (a small 18 is one of the complaints) and attendants who wear a larger size have to wear something different.
    Maybe some of the women posters can tell me whether a size 18 is big or small. I always thought it was fairly large.

    This is a real lawsuit. This is why the courts are jammed. What the judicial system needs is an ombudsman with a rubber hammer to hit some of these plaintiffs over the head.

    • TheSpatulaOfLove says:

      Ever try shopping for a woman without her there to try stuff on?

      I tried this one time and I swear, shopping for womens’ clothes is an effort in frustration and lies. I wanted to surprise my wife by buying a formal dress for an event we had to attend, and thinking I was being this romantic guy, I went through her closet and started to write down numbers. The numbers had an 8 point spread, I swear. I was so thoroughly confused, but I went out anyway and spent hours wandering and tried describing my wife’s physique to sales ladies. They brought me to areas that left very little to choose from. I found the best thing I could, and later when my wife tried it on, it was too big in some areas and too small in others… but my only guidance was a single fucking number… Argh!

      Men would not tolerate the bullshit women go through to find the perfect fit. Thank goodness men’s clothes are normally sized in something logical like INCHES.

      • yevarechecha says:

        @TheSpatulaOfLove: Heck, I am a woman, and I don’t fully understand women’s clothing sizes. Size 18 as I know it is large. Size 28 could be used to propel a sailboat. On the other end of the spectrum, I have no idea what kind of twiggy people fit into size 0. I’m 5’4″ and about 15 pounds underweight and I’m a 4-6. Size 0 people must have the physique of a drinking straw.

        Back on topic, I was on an overcrowded American Airlines flight from DFW->IAD a few months ago where they had to bump 8 people to a flight leaving the next morning. They offered something like $400 voucher with a free night in a hotel and breakfast and dinner. That deal got enough people to volunteer that they didn’t have to start kicking people off.

        • Alessar says:

          Reading the @yevarechecha: Reading the article it sounds like the dress has a label that says 18 but which would not be considered an 18 by people who normally wear an 18.

      • Anonymous says:

        @TheSpatulaOfLove: I entirely agree with you. I can generally pick my size then spend time in the dressing room to see if it’s right or if I need to go up or down. Ladies have a lot of curves to fit. It would depend on the material of the dress if it has any “give” or not. What fits up top, may not fit around the hips or vice versa or someone that has a longer torso may opt to get a bigger size, then have it tailored instead of wearing a mini.

        I think those dresses are ugly anyway, but I’m not a fan of red. Or of having people stare at my boobs when I bend over.

      • Alessar says:

        @TheSpatulaOfLove: That is exactly what I think whenever my female friends complain about shopping. I can “kind” of see why dresses are single digit but even then I think there could be room for some combo numbers as not all dresses are tents. For example, something loose and flowing up top with a narrower waist could be labeled something like 18/14.

    • WraithSama says:

      The complaint is being filed by the union that represents the flight attendants. In the complaint, they’re claiming that they want Delta to provide the outfit up to size 28. Size-freaking-28. How is a flight attendant who wears that size even supposed to fit down the aisles in an airplane?

      Delta hired a big shot fashion designer to make them, and he said his aim was to basically bring sexy back to the flight attendant trade. Have you seen these uniforms? I can’t imagine them in size 28… it couldn’t be pretty.

      • jp says:


        Here’s a picture of the new red uniforms. I can’t imagine a size 28 person would want to wear this.


      • anduin says:

        size 28 is a husky woman but not a woman that requires two seats therefore completely acceptable but yea, I dont think Ive ever seen a stuardess that large, Ive seen a guy stuard who was quite tall and large but still got the job done.

  13. ZManGT says:

    Would arriving at your gate 10 minutes before you flight (slow connecting flight), and already having the gate attendant give you seat to someone count as involuntarily bumping or would they have another name for that? I’m really just wondering if I could have been compensated.

  14. JGKojak says:


    I believe if a retail store had 300 ultra-cheap wide screen TVs, and DELIBERATELY pre-sold 305 TVs, and then “bumped” the last 5 to a slightly worse model, it would be called BAIT AND SWITCH and they would be fined and/or shut down.

    Part of what you pay for in airfare is NOT just the flight, its the TIME of the flight and convenience as it fits into your schedule.

    Overselling should be illegal, period.

  15. Thanatos says:

    At least Delta has always gotten me to my destination. Too bad I can’t say the same thing about American Airlines. They dropped us off at JFK and told us that we needed to find your own way home since they didn’t have flights to book people on (My flight was from San Diego to Boston). They didn’t offer compensation and they didn’t offer a hotel.

    After a being polite and getting nowhere (not too mention they didn’t seem to care at all), I did a 180 and exchanged a few choice words. Once I had said my piece and their jaws had dropped far enough, I rented a car and drove the 4 hours it takes from JFK to Boston…

    Finally got home at 2AM. Thanks for being so accommodating American Airlines (and no, I have never flown with them again).

  16. Inail says:

    Wow. My experience was just the opposite. Voluntarily gave up seat on an ATL-WPB overbooked flight, waited an hour for the next flight, was given a free ticket anywhere they flew and enjoyed a BOS-LAS trip for free. I’d jump at the chance again.