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Surely you've seen them before. Surrounded by grease-blotted Sbarro boxes and empty soda cans, these unfortunate folks
have been booted from their overbooked flight, left with no choice but to make camp on the airport floor and wait. Think it can't
happen to you? Don't be so certain. Overbooking flights has become standard practice these days among the most airlines,
and your chances of being booted are higher than ever. But before you resign yourself to a spot on the floor, we offer this
What you're owed
Today, the US D.O.T. announced new proposed higher
compensation rules for bumped passengers. For
domestic flights, if you're involuntarily bumped off your
flight and the airline can't get you to your destination
within an hour of the original arrival time, the federal law
would require that you be paid the equivalent of your
one-way fare up to $650 if you arrive between one and
two hours after your original arrival time; or $1300 if you
arrive more than two hours late. For international flights,
the compensation is the same, but the $650 payment
kicks in if you arrive between one and four hours late,
and payment goes up to $1300 for arrivals over four
hours late. The current limits are $400 and $800.
The airline may try to offer you a travel voucher rather than a cash payment, but don't take it. You should
insist on a check instead of a travel voucher since they come with restrictions and can be difficult to
What to do if you're bumped
Instead of waiting in line with other disgruntled bumpees
for a gate agent, try sneaking off to call the airline 800
number directly (or call while you're waiting in line).
Speaking immediately to an agent on the phone can
help you skirt any airport computer systems that give
priority to frequent fliers or those who paid top dollar for
their fare. So it's a good idea to call in for first crack at
How not to get bumped
One way to avoid getting bumped altogether is to fly JetBlue Airways, which refuses to overbook and consequently has the
best track bumping record among all major US carriers.
And you should also know that the folks in the cheap seats have lower priority on some airlines than the ones who paid full
fare. If you're a very frequent flyer at the highest tier of your airline's program and/or paid a full fare (or are a business or first
class passenger) you're more likely to get on board than the poor chap who paid next to nothing for his coach ticket.
Of course, the easiest thing you can do to prevent getting
bumped is arrive early. Really early. As in three hours early
for domestic flights, and up to four hours for international
ones. On overbooked flights, the last passengers to check
in are among the first to get kicked off. Hate to wait around
airports and sit in those noisy and crowded gate areas?
Treat yourself to a one-day airline club lounge pass if
you're not already a member. These cost about $30 per
visit and are well worth it. Get some last minute work done,
read a good book, play with your new iPad, watch TV, grab
a drink, and relax. Why start your trip in a stressful state?
It's simply not worth it.
In addition, if you do not check in for your flight within your airlines' published time
periods, you're out of luck. Many airlines require that you check in for international
flights no fewer than 60 minutes before departure; and you must be on board your
flight at least 30 minutes. Not sure where you stand with your airline? Check their
contract of carriage. In fact, it's a good idea to print this out and have it with you for
reference incase of such an emergency. Sure, it may sound unnecessarily nerdy now,
but hey, it just may save you from sleeping on a row of chairs next to Gate 43A.
Exceptions to the rules
There are, however, a few exceptions to the bumping rule, in which case you may find yourself out of luck. For example, if the
airline must substitute a smaller plane for the one it originally planned to use, the carrier isn't required to compensate people
who are bumped as a result. Compensation also does not apply to charter flights, or scheduled flights with 30 or fewer
passengers. Also remember that these rules vary for flights departing from the European Union, even if they're on US-based
carriers. Indeed, the EU's rules are more consumer-friendly than the US D.O.T.'s.
|Bumping 101: DOT proposes increased compensation:
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