Typically airlines sell more tickets then there are actual seats, in anticipation of cancellations and no-shows, or sometimes airlines have to substitute a smaller plane with fewer seats. These things sometimes result in a shortage of seats. Last year, approximately 63,000 passengers were bumped from their flights, according to government figures, and this year is shaping up the same way.
It is good to know that if you get bumped, the federal government has set rules on bumping and occasionally fines airlines for breaking them. This month, the Transportation Department fined Delta Air Lines $375,000, although it may waive about half if Delta improves its procedures for handling oversold flights.
Airlines must ask for volunteers first, and pay passengers some type of compensation who are bumped against their will. If you are bumped from a domestic flight, the airline must pay you the price of a one-way ticket, up to $400 cash if you are rescheduled to reach your destination between 1-2 hours of the original arrival time. If it is longer, the maximum doubles to $800.
While there are federal rules on bumping, there is no requirement for airlines to provide accommodations or meals for passengers who are stranded overnight, even if it's the carrier's fault, according to the Transportation Department.
Sometimes gate agents put out a sign or simply announce that they're looking for volunteers to skip the flight. It's often best to wait until departure time nears to accept any type of offer, as the bidding will usually get stronger. Experts warn about accepting travel vouchers, as they can be hard to redeem, especially at peak travel periods. Make sure you understand any limitations before accepting one.
Since summer airline travel often comes with delays, experts advise that you know what flights are available if yours is cancelled. Also, if your flight should be delayed or cancelled, get on your laptop or phone to see if you can rebook, rather than waiting in long lines.
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