Q. I’ve heard that more passengers are being bumped from airline flights, even when they have tickets. What are my rights?
A.Hard economic times are redefining air travel. Airlines are cutting the number of flights and doing more overbooking to make up for no-shows to reduce the likelihood of empty seats. So expect a greater chance of being bumped. During the first six months of 2008, nearly 350,000 passengers—roughly one in 10,000—were denied seats because of airline overbooking, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
While overbooking is legal, the DOT recently doubled the maximum that airlines must pay to inconvenienced passengers. Under the new rules, which went into effect in May, you will receive the cost of your one-way fare, up to $400, if you are involuntarily bumped and rebooked on another domestic flight that lands within one to two hours of your original arrival time, or within one to four hours for an international flight. If your rerouting takes longer, the compensation increases to double the one-way fare, up to $800.
That compensation must be paid immediately in cash, or with a voucher for another flight if you prefer.
In Europe, airlines are required to offer bumped passengers a choice of a refund, a return flight to their departure city or an alternative flight. Those who volunteer to relinquish their seats also receive cash but must negotiate the amount with the airline. More information on your rights as an airline passenger is available from the Aviation Consumer Protection Division on the DOT website.
Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.