Flying the Unfriendly Skies- Part 2

Wow, lots of poor airline PR has been in the news lately including over booked flights and forcing passengers off a plane.

My Vacation Lady’s clients had issues with oversold flights during the same weekend as all of this came to the headlines.   Todd and Jessica booked their own flights using credit card points to Hawaii.  We took care of the rest of their reservation for them.  The day before departure, when Todd went onto to airline A’s website to check in and print boarding passes, he realized that the flight # had changed and his seats were gone.  Not only were their seats gone, there was not a single seat to be had on the plane.  He called and was told to speak to the gate agents at the airport.

Like all good clients, he called his travel agent— what should he do.  My suggestion was to get to the airport EARLY – at least 2 hours early to check in.  Sometimes at the desk where you hand in your luggage, they can assign seats.

So for a noon flight, they arrived at before 10am.  When they handed in their luggage, they were told to wait for the gate agent.  (Not a good sign).  I called Airline A and was told that this flight was very overbooked.  Not a seat in Premium Economy to be purchased.  Exit rows were already booked.  They would be asking for volunteers to be bumped.  My clients were very concerned that they wouldn’t make their connecting flight and be able to get to Hawaii.  There were 10 other people who also didn’t have seats, including a family of 6 traveling together.  My clients were the only ones with a connecting flight though and we hoped that that enough was enough to get them on the plane.  The airline was offering $400 per person for passengers with seats to take another plane.  Still not enough takers to get the 10 seat-less passengers on the plane.

Todd texts— what kind of compensation can THEY receive if they are bumped and miss their connecting flight to Hawaii?  According to   , overbooking flights is not illegal and it’s actually a pretty common practice with airlines to make up for potential no shows.    Lots of mumbo jumbo and legalese talking here but:

Involuntary Bumping

DOT requires each airline to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn’t. Those travelers who don’t get to fly are frequently entitled to denied boarding compensation in the form of a check or cash. The amount depends on the price of their ticket and the length of the delay:

  • 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% 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% 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.

Like all rules, however, there are a few conditions and exceptions:

  • To be eligible for compensation, you must have a confirmed reservation. A written confirmation issued by the airline or an authorized agent or reservation service qualifies you in this regard even if the airline can’t find your reservation in the computer, as long as you didn’t cancel your reservation or miss a reconfirmation deadline.
  • Each airline has a check-in deadline, which is the amount of time before scheduled departure that you must present yourself to the airline at the airport. For domestic flights most carriers require you to be at the departure gate between 10 minutes and 30 minutes before scheduled departure, but some deadlines can be an hour or longer. Check-in deadlines on international flights can be as much as three hours before scheduled departure time. Some airlines may simply require you to be at the ticket/baggage counter by this time; most, however, require that you get all the way to the boarding area. Some may have deadlines at both locations. If you miss the check-in deadline, you may have lost your reservation and your right to compensation if the flight is oversold.

As noted above, no compensation is due if the airline arranges substitute transportation which is scheduled to arrive at your destination within one hour of your originally scheduled arrival time.

Todd and Jessica were lucky and did get seats on the plane.  It was a stressful beginning to a great vacation that should never have happened.

Some tips on what to do in order NOT to be bumped:

  1. Book early and assign seats upon booking
  2. If you can’t get assigned seats, look to upgrade to premium economy (for a fee)
  3. Check each email from the airline for flight schedule changes or flight # changes, to make sure you still have seats assigned
  4. Do NOT book the cheapest “BASIC” economy seats that the airlines are offering.  They will never come with seat assignments and you will be the first to be bumped.
  5. Check in 24 hours prior to the flight and print boarding passes, if possible.

My Vacation Lady has said many times that we would be happier doing this job if it didn’t involve airlines but that isn’t going to happen.   When we book airline tickets for our clients we follow our tips above.  We want our client’s vacations to be as seamless and stress free as possible.  Todd and Jessica had a wonderful vacation but we certainly wish it started off much less stressful.


About the Author:

Mindy Gilbert of My Vacation Lady has been helping clients, just like you, plan their dream vacations, cruises and honeymoons since 1994.