PhotoThe summer travel season often means jammed airport terminals and oversold flights. When that happens, you might be asked to give up your seat and take a later flight.

Should you, and how much compensation from the airline should you expect?

Last year, United Airlines was the unwelcome focus of attention after a passenger, Dr. David Dao, was dragged off a flight after declining to give up his seat so that an airline employee could take his place.

United, along with other airlines, immediately implemented changes in how they handle overbooked situations, in some cases increasing the incentives for booked passengers to voluntarily take a later flight.

The GO Group surveyed a representative sample of air travelers to learn what consumers think they should get for accepting a bump. The opinions are widely divergent.

Willingness to take the money

"Perhaps the most surprising result of the survey was that only 22.6 percent of business travelers and 15.5 percent of leisure travelers were unwilling to give up their seats no matter how substantial the compensation,” said John McCarthy, president of The GO Group. “Given the complications of air travel today, we really expected more people to say 'thanks, but no thanks' if asked to give up their seats."

Missing a scheduled flight could mean that the traveler has to scramble to rearrange connecting flights. On the other hand, airlines may be willing to pay travelers more for their trouble.

In terms of compensation, 42.5 percent of leisure travelers would settle for $750 to give up their seat. However, only 27 percent of business travelers thought that amount was adequate.

Business travelers generally said they would hold out for more, with nearly 15 percent saying $2,000 would be fair compensation. Only 7 percent of leisure travelers said they would ask for that much.

All consumers generally agreed that the level of compensation should be based on the inconvenience caused by taking another flight.

Passengers’ rights

Since the chances are increasing that you'll be asked to surrender your seat on a flight, it pays to know what the airline can legally do, and your rights as a passenger.

For example, airlines are required to seek volunteers who are willing to be bumped before involuntarily bumping someone from a flight. Involuntarily-bumped passengers must also receive written notice of their rights.

In 2017, the Department of Transportation fined Frontier Airlines for violating both of those rules.

Airlines generally look for volunteers to give up oversold seats before they board the aircraft. The Department of Transportation suggests asking a couple of questions before deciding whether to accept the airline's offer.

  • When is the next flight on which the airline can confirm your seat? The alternate flight may be just as acceptable to you. On the other hand, if the airline offers to put you on standby on another flight that's full, you could be stranded.

  • Will the airline provide other amenities such as free meals, a hotel room, transfers between the hotel and the airport, and a phone card? If not, you might have to spend the money it offers you on food or lodging while you wait for the next flight.

Remember that the government has not mandated the form or amount of compensation that airlines offer to volunteers, so it is up to passengers to try to negotiate the best deal possible with the airline.


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