Overbooking flights has been a common occurrence for years on flights across the United States. Despite the inconvenience of being forced to miss a flight, the federal government allows airlines to oversell flights.
The issue of overbooking flights became a hot-button issue on Monday, one day after a man was forced off a plane by law enforcement on a United Airline flight from Chicago to Louisville. The incident was captured by several passengers, and instantly became viral.
While the US Department of Transportation allows for customers to be forced off flights, customers could get compensated.
The airline is also required to give passengers forced off a plane due to overbooking a written statement.
Many airlines will do what it takes to prevent forcing customers to miss a flight by offering compensation along with a seat on a subsequent flight. But in the case of United 3,411, incentives were not enough to lure enough passengers to take a future flight. This resulted in United Airlines to randomly select passengers to leave the flight.
That meant a man claiming to be a doctor needing to report on duty was removed from the flight with force by three police officers.
The Department of Transportation has guidelines for compensating customers who are forced to leave a flight due to overbooking,:
- If you are bumped involuntarily and the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to get you to your final destination (including later connections) within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, there is no compensation.
- If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to 200 percent of your one-way fare to your final destination that day, with a $675 maximum.
- If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (400 percent of your one-way fare, $1350 maximum).
- If your ticket does not show a fare (for example, a frequent-flyer award ticket or a ticket issued by a consolidator), your denied boarding compensation is based on the lowest cash, check or credit card payment charged for a ticket in the same class of service (e.g., coach, first class) on that flight.
- You always get to keep your original ticket and use it on another flight. If you choose to make your own arrangements, you can request an "involuntary refund" for the ticket for the flight you were bumped from. The denied boarding compensation is essentially a payment for your inconvenience.
- If you paid for optional services on your original flight (e.g., seat selection, checked baggage) and you did not receive those services on your substitute flight or were required to pay a second time, the airline that bumped you must refund those payments to you.
The Department of Transportation notes there are some exceptions. For one, the above rules only apply for domestic flights, and those departing from the United States. Those rules do not apply to overseas flights coming into the United States.
Also if an airline is forced to use a smaller plane, those passengers bumped are not entitled to compensation. Also, if a passenger is bumped from a plane with 30 to 60 occupants for safety or balance concerns, airlines are not obligated to provide compensation.
Finally, the government's rules on compensating passengers do not apply on charter flights, or commercial flights with fewer than 30 seats.
Consumers looking for recourse can contact the Department of Transportation using this form.