It is very common for airlines to overbook the flights and it is perfectly legal as well.
However there are rules that the airline must follow when the airline denies boarding on the basis of an oversold flight.
Department of Transportation (DOT) rules require airlines to seek out people who are willing to give up their seats for compensation before bumping anyone involuntarily. If you’re not in a rush to arrive at your next destination, you can give your reservation back to the airline in exchange for compensation and for a later flight.
If you are thinking of giving up your seat voluntarily in exchange of compensation, you may want to find out following before you decide.
1) When is the next flight on which the airline can confirm your seat?
Make sure that your seat is confirmed on the flight offered to you. If the airline offers to put you on standby on another flight that’s full, you could be stranded.
2) Will the airline provide other amenities such as free meals, a hotel room, transfers between the hotel and the airport, and a phone card? You can always try to negotiate all of these extra perks.
There is no rule about amount of compensation to people who volunteer to give up their seats. Generally the airline will start out with a discount travel vouchers for future travel and if they don’t find volunteers, the offer keeps going up till they find volunteers.
If the airline does not find enough volunteers to give up their seats, the airline will involuntary bump off passengers from the flight based on the airline’s boarding rules.
Each airline sets its own “boarding rules” — the order in which they will bump different categories of passengers in an overbooked situation. When a flight is oversold and there are not enough volunteers, some airlines bump passengers with the lowest fares first. Others bump the last passengers to check in. Some airlines consider your frequent flyer membership status, some gives priority to elderly or passengers with infants or minors traveling alone. Even if you know the boarding rules of an airline, it is very hard to predict how the airline will bump off a passenger.
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.
The most effective way to reduce the risk of being bumped is to get to the airport early and be at the gate early.
If the airline bumps you off the flight involuntarily, according to DOT rule, airline must do following…
a) The airline must give you a written explanation describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn’t.
Those passengers who don’t get to fly are 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:
b) 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.
c) 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.
d) 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 the airline bumps you but gets you to your destination from your original arrival time…
Within 1 Hour: No compensation
Bet 1 & 2 Hrs for Domestic Flights: $675 Max
(1 & 4 hours for international)
After 2 hours: $1350 Max
(After 4 for International)
Like all rules, however, there are a few conditions and exceptions:
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.
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.
The rules do not apply to charter flights, or to scheduled flights operated with planes that hold fewer than 30 passengers.
The rules generally apply to the flights within United States and flights from United States to other countries.
Airlines may offer you free tickets or dollar amount travel vouchers for future travel instead of a check. However, if you are bumped involuntarily you have the right to insist on a check if that is what you prefer.
I always suggest buying travel insurance that covers trip interruption and cancellation costs.
For more travel related information, I can be contact via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By: Sheetal Trivedi (TripExplorer.com)
Source: Department of Transportation