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Airlines Must Pay You Up To 4 Times The Cost Of Your Flight If This Problem Happens

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Ever get to the airport only to find out that you’ve been bumped from your flight?

If this problem happens, you might be entitled to monetary compensation (and it might be more than you think!)

Young passengers doing check-in for flight at airport

What Is Involuntary Denied Boarding?

When an airline oversells their tickets and you aren’t given a seat on the plane, this is called “involuntary denied boarding.”

This happens only when a flight is overbooked and there aren’t enough travelers willing to take a later flight. In this case, the airline will typically bump the passengers with the lowest fares off of the plane and deny them boarding on the originally scheduled flight.

If you are denied boarding this way, airlines must give you compensation if the delay is over 1 hour of the originally scheduled arrival time. For an over 2-hour delay, travelers may receive up to 400% of the cost of the one-way fare. This is because the Department of Transportation has specific guidance in order to protect consumers and travelers in the US.

This “travel hack” topic is some of the latest in travel news this week, as this video on TikTok went viral with over 80 million views so far. @erikakullberg a lawyer with a massive TikTok following of videos helping consumers recently posted what to do if an airline bumps you, including how much cash they'll owe you.

erikakullberg tiktok
Photo Credit: erikakullberg's Tiktok

So how does this affect travelers who've been bumped? And when do the airlines need to pay up? We have all of the information for you below.

Compensation For Travelers According To The Department Of Transportation

Of course, there are some specific terms and conditions to follow in order to get your traveler compensation for being bumped on a flight.

Here’s all that’s required from airlines (as well as the rights of the passenger) according to the latest guidance of the US Department of Transportation.

How Much You’re Owed From The Airline

For domestic as well as international departures from the United States, travelers subject to involuntary denied boarding are officially entitled to the following:

  • For a 1 to 4-hour arrival delay: 200% of the one-way fare (there may be a limit to compensation of $775 set by the airline if the 200% is higher than $775 USD)
  • For an over 4-hour arrival delay: 400% of the one-way fare (there may be a limit to compensation of $1,550 set by the airline if the 200% is higher than $1,550 USD)
  • For a delay of less than 1 hour of scheduled arrival, passengers are not due any compensation from the airline.

This type of compensation from the airline is called Denied Boarding Compensation (DBC).

Be aware that there are some terms to follow on your end as well. If you’ve been involuntarily denied boarding and wondering if you are owed compensation, you must have:

  • Checked in to your flight on time
  • Have a confirmed reservation for your flight ticket
  • Arrived at the airport gate on time
Female Traveler Holding U.S. Passport Checks In At The Airport

How This Happens In The First Place

If it looks like more passengers are showing up than planned and the aircraft will be at capacity, airline staff will first ask for volunteers to be bumped to a later flight. When this happens, the airline will typically offer a flight voucher, a free ticket, or money in return.

And according to the DOT, “There is no limit to the amount of money or vouchers that the airline may offer, and passengers are free to negotiate with the airline.” The airline must also inform the passenger of any terms and conditions (for instance, any block out dates for travel, destinations, etc) that may come with the flight voucher or complimentary airline ticket.

So if you ever accept a flight voucher or free ticket from an airline, make sure you get the terms and conditions that come with them (if any).

Why Are Seats Being Overbooked On Airlines? Information For Travelers

Wondering why an airline would bother to overbook on their planes? The practice of overbooking isn’t actually an uncommon occurrence with a number of passenger airlines, and it's especially common in the U.S.

To avoid having any empty seats on a plane and compensate for any potential absences, airlines will sometimes overbook the flight. In most cases, it will work out but in others (especially during busy and peak travel times) a plane will be past capacity and some passengers will be left waiting for the next flight.

According to the latest terms and conditions at the DOT, this practice isn’t illegal. However, airlines must determine their individual fair boarding priorities.

An airplane taking off for air travel from a John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York runway. Two  planes taxi on the tarmac, queing up to fly from the JFK facility. The Queens, New York City gateway is a transportation hub.

Know Your Rights As An Air Traveler

Please note that this is only the case if the airline overbooks and you are denied boarding. If the delay is due to unforeseen weather conditions or other circumstances, travelers aren’t guaranteed any type of compensation. For more information, here’s what you can do if your flight is delayed or canceled for another reason.

You can check out the official US Department of Transportation website for the full information to see if you qualify for denied boarding compensation.

flight attendant in mask airport

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