Skip to main content
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Find a Lawyer

More Options

Bumped: What Are My Rights if My Flight Is Overbooked?

By Catherine Hodder, Esq. on July 21, 2022 1:00 PM

Air travel has become a nightmare with oversold flights, staff shortages, flight delays, and cancellations.

Being bumped from a flight is an all-too-common occurrence these days. But people do not realize that, despite paying for a ticket in advance, the terms of purchase don't entitle you to a particular flight. They merely promise you transportation from one city to another.

Why Do Airlines Overbook Flights?

Airlines want to fly at 100% capacity. Airlines may not fully book a flight, and passengers may be no-shows or delayed on another flight. Airlines avoid empty seats by overselling the number of tickets for the number of available seats. And it is less costly to bump passengers than flying no-shows.

What Happens if My Flight Is Overbooked?

Volunteer For Another Flight

If your travel plans are flexible, you can benefit. When the airline requests a volunteer to fly another time, the airlines give travel vouchers, gift cards, or cash incentives. Delta Airlines recently offered up to 8 passengers $10,000 cash if they deplaned and took a later flight. It was a lucrative deal; the flight was only an hour long.

If an airline offers you a voucher for free flights, check all the terms and conditions (and restrictions) before accepting. Here are some questions to ask:

  • When is the next flight?
  • Will I have a confirmed seat or fly standby?
  • Will it affect my connecting flights?
  • Do I get reimbursement for food or lodging while waiting for the next flight?
  • Are there any travel blackout dates (i.e., holidays)?
  • Are there any travel blackout destinations (i.e., international flights)?
  • When does the voucher expire?

Depending on your answers, cash may be the better option.

Or Risk Getting Bumped

If there are not enough volunteers on an overbooked flight, airline employees choose which air passengers get bumped, also called "involuntary denied boarding."

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has rules for when airlines overbook a flight and need to remove passengers.

First, the airline must provide a written statement describing your rights and their process to determine who is bumped from a flight. The criteria cannot be discriminatory, for example, based on someone's race or ethnicity.

However, airlines are allowed to consider:

  • Your check-in time·
  • If you are a frequent flyer
  • The ticket price paid

Second, you are entitled to denied boarding compensation. If you have a confirmed reservation, checked into your flight, arrived at the departure gate on time, and your arrival time on an alternative flight has a one hour or more delay; you are entitled to compensation. The DOT calculates the required compensation for domestic flights as follows:

Delay Length:

Entitled Compensation:

Note:

0-1 hours

None

 

1-2 hours

200% of one-way fare

Limited to $775

2+ hours

400% of one-way fare

Limited to $1,550

The compensation schedule for international flights is:

Delay Length:

Entitled Compensation:

Note:

0-1 hours

None

 

1-4 hours

200% of one-way fare

Limited to $775

4+ hours

400% of one-way fare

Limited to $1,550

Airlines may offer more money than is required. They must pay you flight compensation at the airport on the same day you are bumped or within 24 hours of being bumped.

Other Reasons to Be Denied a Flight

In other circumstances, airlines may refuse your boarding. For example, if you are a health or safety risk, drunk, unruly, or interfering with flight crew duties.

Know Your Rights

You do not necessarily have “rights," but consumer protections. Therefore, you can't sue an airline for lost baggage or delays. However, the DOT set out so-called “passenger rights" and fines for violations. For example, if you are delayed on a tarmac for over three hours for a domestic flight, the airplane must return to the gate and allow you to deplane. The DOT has a Consumer Guide to Air Travel.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:
Copied to clipboard