Bumped off a flight? You can get compensated.

Think getting bumped from your flight is just one more annoyance of modern travel that you can't do anything about? You're wrong. The Department of Travel (DOT) says you do have a right to compensation.

We received a late call last night from our daughter, who was in route to the Big Island of Hawaii. Unfortunately, she was stuck in Honolulu because she was 'bumped' off her Mesa Airlines flight and it was the last one for the night. While they offered to put her up in a local hotel, they could not guarantee that she could get on a flight in the morning. Understandably upset, she was told that an earlier flight in the day had been canceled and she was being bumped so these passengers could get on the flight.

She returned to the airport this morning and was told that the earliest she could get out was late afternoon because all the flights were full with booked passengers. She reminded them that she also was a "booked passenger," and suggested that they bump someone so she could get on the flight and still make the wedding she was scheduled to attend. The clerk said, "We can't bump a confirmed passenger." "Well, you bumped me," she replied, "so I know you can do it." The clerk put her on standby with 20 other people.
In the meantime, I called the airline. I was routed to customer service who informed me that he could not do anything because those types of decisions are made at the gate.

"Fine," I said, "transfer me to the gate."

"I can't do that," he said, "it is against policy."

"Ok, give me the number," I said.

"Can't do that either," he replied.

"So you basically can't do anything," I said.

"That's right."

Well, that wasn't very helpful. I was reminded of the Seinfield episode where he goes to the car rental desk only to be told that they were out of cars. As he argues with the clerk about his reservation, he says, "You know how to TAKE the reservation, but you don't know how to KEEP the reservation. The same can be said of Mesa Airlines. My daughter's ticket was bought and paid for months ago and we thought she had a reserved seat.

I started to surf around the net on this issue and was amazed how often this type of inconvenience happens to travelers. Overbooking flights is a standard procedure of all the major airlines as they bank on some of the passengers not showing up. While vacationers usually book early and rarely miss their flights, it is not unusual for the business traveler. They may not know what day a meeting will be completed so they book several days of flights to make sure they get a flight. Overbooking essentially gives the airlines an opportunity to sell the same seat more than once.

Many times, though, everyone shows up for the party. That is when you hear offers of a free round trip if you will go on a later flight. The flight attendants continue to "sweeten" the offer until one or more passengers give up their seats. But what if you don't want to give up your seat and still get bumped? I was surprised to learn that there is new legislation to reimburse passengers in this predicament.

According to the Department of Transportation website, passengers who are involuntarily 'bumped' are entitled to compensation up to 200% of the price of their ticket. Here are the guidelines:

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 an on-the-spot payment of denied boarding compensation. 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 your one-way fare to your final destination, with a $400 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 (200% of your fare, $800 maximum).

* 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.

There are exceptions and additional rules so check the website.

No one handed my daughter any written statement and no offer to reimburse for inconvenience was made. They did put her on a flight this morning after she argued at the gate, but she missed one night at her destination. She will be requesting the 200% for her ticket from Mesa Airlines.

I wonder how many passengers bumped from flights are aware of this legislation.

Barbara Bartlein is the People Pro. For her FREE e-mail newsletter, please visit: The People Pro.
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