What To Do When You Get Bumped Off an Overbooked Flight

It’s not often that you get bumped off a flight but the chances of that happening nowadays is more frequent than ever. Airlines have overbooked flights in an attempt to maximize their revenue on the seats available. Because airlines have reduced capacity in expectation of poor demand in a slow economy, the unexpected demand on the fewer seats available causes overbooking of flights. If you are involuntarily bumped off your domestic flight, don't take it personally.  Stay calm. It is not the end of the world, it is just a major inconvenience.  You are entitled to denied boarding compensation. Here’s what you should expect:

  1. You should get a written notice describing your rights and an explanation of how the airline decides which passenger gets bumped off on an oversold flight.
  2. You should get some compensation for being involuntarily denied boarding in either the form of a check or cash. The amount of compensation depends on the price of the ticket and the length of the delay, but the general rule is 200% of your one-way fare up to a maximum of $800. Even if the airline arranges a flight to your destination but you arrive more than two hours after your original arrival time, you are still entitled to the above compensation. The airline may offer you free tickets or a dollar-amount voucher applicable to a future flight but you can decline and still insist on a check.
  3. If you choose to make your own arrangements, you can request an “involuntary refund” of your ticket, in addition to the denied boarding compensation as a payment for your inconvenience. If you choose to keep your ticket and apply it to another flight, you might be subject to a “change fee” of anywhere from $100 to $200 depending on the airline.

Photo Attribution: Creative Commons
Photo Attribution: Creative Commons

Conditions and Exceptions to Denied Boarding Compensation

There are a few conditions and exceptions to the denied boarding compensation.

  • You must have a confirmed reservation.
  • You must have checked in by the deadline that the airline has set for the flight.
  • You do not get compensation if the airline substitutes another flight that gets you to your destination within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time. If you arrive within two hours of your original scheduled arrival time, you are entitled to compensation equal to the price of your one-way fare up to a maximum of $400.
  • You do not get compensation if the airline substitutes a smaller plane than the original larger plane intended and you get bumped off.


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  • You do not get compensation if your plane seats between 30 and 60 passengers and you were bumped because of weight restrictions or balance constraints due to safety measures.
  • Denied boarding compensation does not apply to charter flights.
  • Denied boarding compensation does not apply to scheduled flights operated with planes that seat less than 30 passengers.
  • Denied boarding compensation does not apply to inbound US flights from international airports.

Because it is such a hassle to get bumped off of your flight and get onto another one, make sure that you check in for your flight at least one hour before your departure time especially if your flight is on a popular route and especially during peak travel season to popular destinations. Note however, that even if you check-in by the deadline for your flight, you may still get bumped off on a very overbooked flight if you are one of the last passengers to check in.

It is worthwhile to check-in and print out your boarding passes on the internet before you arrive for your flight so that you can avoid hassles that might prevent you from checking in as early as possible. There is usually a lot of traffic on roads on the way to the airport. Your search for parking space could take a long time. There could be long lines at the check-in counter.

Also keep in mind that if your flight is part of a package deal such as a cruise and missing your flight means missing your cruise, the compensation they offer you by being bumped off might not cover the cost of the package. You are only entitled to the compensation for the inconvenience of being bumped off the flight, the airline is not responsible for any loss bumping off might have caused you. Ultimately you are responsible for getting where you need to be on time; if you have to catch a cruise it is wise to book your flight so that your arrival is a day early rather than on the same day the cruise departs. In the long run paying for an extra night at the hotel is a lot cheaper than missing the cruise and less stressful than uncertainty.

Keep in mind that a flight cancelled due to weather conditions is not the same as being bumped off the flight.  You do not qualify for denied boarding compensation if your flight was cancelled due to bad weather conditions.

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Comments 4 comments

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

Although inconvenient, it may actually pay to be bumped off a flight. I have been on overbooked flights a couple of times and volunteered to go on a later flight and received a couple of benefits. I once got a voucher for $100, and another time a free ticket. What the heck, I had to delay my plans for about 8 hours.

Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 6 years ago from The East Coast Author

Hi Steve, being able to volunteer your seat in an overbooked flight, if you have the time and flexibility, is a great way to save money for your next ticket. I know people who purposely purchase tickets during peak travel season so that they can volunteer their seats.

tiptonite profile image

tiptonite 6 years ago from Leicester, England, UK

Thanks for the useful info! That sort of luck follows me about!

Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 6 years ago from The East Coast Author

Hi tiptonite, hopefully the compensation you get allows you to get a free vacation now and then. Thanks for stopping by.

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