By now, we’ve all seen the videos and read comments about the removal of the passengers on multiple airlines. This is a complicated issue and really, the truth lies somewhere in between the side of the passenger and that f the airline. The first thing to know is, as flyers our rights have been laid out by the US Department of Transportation. But, to truly understand what is going on here, there are a few questions that need to be answered to give us a clear picture.
Q1: Do airlines have the right to deny boarding?
Yes, airlines can deny boarding of any customer at any time. This is spelled out in the Contract of Carriage (COC) that we all enter into when we purchase airline tickets. The COCs are written in legal terms and are maybe hard to find on the airlines website. But, the bottom line is we do agree to them when we click PURCHASE.
Q2: Do airlines have the right to deny boarding or remove me or anyone else from a overbooked flight if i do not give up my seat upon request?
Yes, Airlines can deny boarding for any reason they see fit including oversold situations. In most instances, airlines do canvas ticket holders to see if anyone will voluntarily give up their seat prior to bumping passengers. if you choose to give up your seat make sure you ask about compensation, when the next available flight is, and any amenities that are offered for giving up your seat. make sure you are informed before you give up anything.
If there are not enough passengers who voluntarily give up their seats, then the carrier can INVOLUNTARILY deny boarding. When this happens, there are Federal laws which outline mandatory compensation and various other requirements. One of the most important requirements is being provided with a written statement describing your rights and how the determination is made as to who gets on the oversold flight. For more info on this you can go to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation
Q3: As a passenger, what should I do if get caught up in a situation like this?
Your best course of action is to leave the plane on you own. ( We will go into what happens if you are forcefully removed later) Understand that most front line gate agents have limited authority and knowledge on how compensate passengers. But this is where you have to start your fact finding and negotiating. Also, don't kill the messenger the gate attendant is there to inform you and get you moving in the right direction. Should you decide to climb the ladder for support or compensation you can tighten the bolts on station supervisors and managers.
Q4: What can happen if I am removed from a plane?
As long as you are not making any threats or physically attack someone not much. Maybe a fine or a slap on the wrist. If you were to threaten violence against a Crew Member, Passenger or the plane itself you may be subject to dealing with local law enforcement as well as fines. If you cause a disturbance mid flight to the point of the plane having to be grounded, you could face serious fines among other penalties from the airline.
To summarize, our advice is first and foremost, know your rights as a flyer. Check in as early as possible. If you think you’re on an oversold flight (ask at check in) volunteer to give up your seat. Do the same once you get to the gate. Stay close by, the airline will let you know if your seat is needed. If this is the case the airline will present you with an offer, feel free to make a counter offer. When you agree to terms, make sure you are confirmed on the next available flight. If you end up in a layover, you should receive a meal voucher. If the next available flight is not until the following day, the airline should take care of a hotel for you as well. Remember, we are discussing OVERSOLD flights here, not cancelled flights-different thing altogether. Travel vouchers are better than a free ticket, but a check (or cash) is even better.
I’ve been bumped, voluntarily, several times. The airline made it worth it, i recieved multiple vouchers and even a free meal on my new flight! As a rule, I volunteer every time I travel alone-as it’s easier for the airline to move 1 person around at a time. If I’m with family or friends, I generally do not volunteer.
Hopefully EVERYONE learns from these incidents. For additional information, visit the Department of Transportation’s website here.