Know Your Rights If Your Flight Is Overbooked

United Airlines jets sit at gates at O’Hare International Airport⼁Source: ABC News

The United Airlines incident in which officials forcibly dragged a passenger off an overbooked flight that was ready to depart was one of the most inhumane actions that the authorities can do to a human being. United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz even managed to make the incident even worse with an “apology” after the stock prices dropped significantly and once the social medias went viral.

What if you were faced with the possibility of being escorted out from a flight because of overbooking? Unfortunately, many airlines do overbook the flights for economic reasoning. At this point, after the recent incident, what you need is knowledge of restrictions and rights and a negotiation strategy.

Many airlines often overbook flights because they know from previous experiences that some passengers will cancel their flights, miss the flight because of a delay or a last-minute change in their traveling plans. The strategy is called hedging strategy – it works often but there are times that they don’t.

According to the Department of Transportation (DOT) in the most recent statistics, roughly 7 out of every 1,000 passengers were denied boarding. Thus, about 0.7 percent of the time you won’t catch that flight.

Be aware that there are two options that an airline can escort out a passenger when overbooked: voluntary and involuntary. Most people denied boarding volunteers to be left off. According to DOT in October 2016, the number of voluntary was 106,723 while involuntary was 8,955. So, the ratio can be viewed roughly 12 to 1.

What are the odds that the airline is looking for volunteers to delay their travel? The minute you hear that they are, this is when you need to make some serious decisions, in which you have the most negotiation powers.

There is a difference in what airlines can and might do for voluntary and involuntary. The specific federal rules state:

  • If the airline arranges substitute transportation and you arrive at your final destination or on a multi-stop trip, your first stop within an hour of the originally scheduled time, the airline does not have to compensate you.
  • If substitute transportation results in a scheduled delay more than an hour but less than two, the airline must reimburse you twice the one-way fare to the final destination, with a maximum of $675.
  • If the delay is more than two hours or more, the airline must reimburse you four times the one-way fare to the final destination, with a maximum of $1,350.

Before considering these benefits, you need a confirmed reservation and must appear at the gate within the check-in deadline. Even then, the airlines do not have to promise you a hotel room if your new flight is scheduled to leave the next day.

According to William Angelley, an aviation attorney and partner with a law firm Braden Varner & Angelley, mentions that “A lot of times if flights have been canceled for a mechanical reason or bad weather, but not overbooking. Often they won’t offer hotel rooms or accommodations.”

Angelley notes that regulations may set out what airlines must reimburse the amount and they are well prepared to protect them from being used for more. That may leave the airlines in a strong position, able to refuse you from boarding so long as it provides federally mandated compensation. Thus, consider your voluntary options carefully and make the decisions in your best interest.

The worst case is that you will not be able to board and have to spend some money for your inconvenience, which at worst might have to cover food and a hotel room. Ask the following questions to determine your needs:

  • How crucial is the arrival time for you? If you’re on international flights, even a short delay could potentially cause problems.
  • How much money have they offered?
  • How long will you need to wait for the next flight and will you need a hotel and meals? How much will need to spend from your personal pockets?
  • If airlines offer a free ticket, what are the limitations for usage? Ask one of the employees if there are black-out dates and if it could be used on any flights including internationals.

Make sure to ask questions and fully understand all the details, then provide a counter-offer. Each passenger is different because some may want money, better transportation options, or an extra ticket without restrictions. Or express your concerns to the gate agents that you really do need to get to the final destinations on time if possible.

Remember to know your rights and protect yourself from any circumstances.






Sam Lee / Illinois