Q. How can I reduce my chance of being bumped from a flight?
A. No matter which airline you fly, you'll have a better chance of boarding an overbooked flight if you:
- Secure a seat assignment when making your reservation. Being told you can't get a seat number until check-in is a good indication the flight may be overbooked.
- Check in online as far in advance as possible if you didn't get a seat assignment when making the reservation. Airlines generally open online check-in 24 hours before scheduled departure.
- Arrive at the gate at least one hour before the scheduled departure, since late arrivals are usually the first chosen for involuntary bumping.
- In general, you'll make out better if you're a member of the airline's frequent flier program.
You can check recent airline bumping rates and ranks by airline by scrolling to the "Oversales" section of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Air Travel Consumer Report, which is posted monthly.
Last year, 764,926 passengers were bumped. Most of those were voluntary, with the passengers agreeing to relinquish their seats in exchange for free tickets on future flights and other perks. That was the highest rate since 2001 — the recession has resulted in fewer planes taking off and more overbookings.
The Department of Transportation has announced proposals that, if adopted next year as expected, will require airlines to pay more money to passengers who are involuntarily bumped.
Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.