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#360 Consumer Rights: Airplane Overbooking

mp3 #360 Airline Passenger Overbooking - What are your Rights? (mp3 file)

One of the most frequent complaints against airlines is that of overbooking, which is sometimes called "bumping".

"Bumping" does not literally mean you are pushed off the flight. In fact, you usually don't have a chance to get on it. Even if you have a confirmed reservation, and have your ticket clutched firmly in your hand, you can find yourself bumped from a flight.

How, you wonder, does this practice happen? Airlines overbook, because some passengers, who make reservations, never show up for their flights.

Airlines offer compensation to passengers who are bumped. A passenger can be "bumped" in two ways---voluntarily and involuntarily. When the flight has been oversold, the airline first asks for volunteers willing to give up their seats. The volunteers are usually offered compensation for their inconvenience. Many times, the amount of compensation is the result of negotiation between the airline and the passenger. You should realize that this compensation comes with no guarantee that you will find booking on another flight, or receive further compensation if you have to stay another day, or need additional services such as meals and hotel accommodations. You may wish to check the availability of another confirmed reservation, and find out what additional services the airline may be willing to offer before you volunteer to be "bumped."

If you are involuntarily bumped, you are entitled to Denied Boarding Compensation, known as "DBC", but only if the airline cannot get you to your destination within one hour of your originally scheduled arrival time. If you are not allowed to board your scheduled flight, you will receive a written statement from the airline regarding your status as a passenger who was denied boarding. If the airline cannot find you substitute transportation which will get you to your destination within one hour of your originally scheduled arrival time but can find you transportation which will get you to your destination within two hours of your original scheduled arrival time, the airline must pay you an amount equal to your one way fare to your final destination with a minimum amount of two hundred ($200.00) dollars. In addition, you keep your original ticket.

If the airline cannot get you to your destination within two hours of your originally scheduled arrival time but can get you substitute transportation on which you will arrive within four hours of your originally scheduled time, the airline must double the amount of your one way fare to your final destination with a minimum of four hundred ($400.00) dollars. In addition, you keep your original ticket. For international travel, the airline is allowed up to four hours to get you to your destination or the same rules apply. It is important to note that the DBC which you are paid is a payment for the inconvenience to you, and is not substitution for your original ticket. Therefore, if the airline offers you an open ended ticket to any city where the airline flies, you do not surrender your original ticket but retain it either for refund or use at another time.

Airlines must have a written policy regarding denied boarding compensation which is available to you upon request. If you have any questions concerning this policy, be sure to ask the airline prior to check-in. For any additional questions concerning your rights, contact the department of transportation which has a pamphlet entitled "flyer's rights" which is published by the government printing office, Washington D.C., 20402.

You are entitled to DBC even if, for some reason, you do not accept it at the time you are bumped. In other words, you may return to the airline a few days later, and claim your compensation when you are involuntarily bumped.

DBC is generally given in the form of a check valid for 30 days. Cashing the check may result in waiving or eliminating your rights to sue in court for being bumped. If you think your damages may exceed the amount of the check, or if you want to consider a lawsuit, don't cash the check until you have had time to think things over, and obtain legal advice.

You should also make accurate notes of what happens at the time you are bumped in case you decide to sue later. Get the name of every airline employee you deal with, the names and addresses of other passengers bumped, and of any possible witnesses.

Denied boarding compensation does not apply:

1-If the airline gets you to your destination within one hour of your scheduled arrival time, or:

2-If you don't have a "confirmed" reservation, or if you don't meet the airline's deadline for buying your ticket, or:

3-If you don't check in at least 10 minutes (sometimes earlier) before the scheduled departure time, or:

4-If the airline has to substitute a smaller plane for mechanical reasons.

One problem on intrastate flights (flights within the state) is called diverted flight. Smaller airlines will change their original route to pick up additional passengers.

While the passengers out in the hinterlands who get this service are undoubtedly pleased, those on the plane are probably not so elated. One woman who complained had booked a flight from San Diego to Lake Tahoe. Undeniably, she did make it to Tahoe ... but it was six hours later, after she had flown from San Diego ... to Los Angeles ... to San Francisco ... to Sacramento, and then found herself on a bus up to the sierras.

This passenger was eventually reimbursed by the airline for her inconvenience, although the company had no legal responsibility to do so.

Normally, on any interstate flight delayed over four hours, the airline will pay for telephone calls and provide passengers with complimentary meals or lodging, depending on the time of day. If complimentary services are not offered to you, ask what the airline policy is.

If your flight is cancelled, the airline will usually arrange alternate transportation for you on the next available flight to your destination. There is usually no additional charge to you, even if you have to be given a first class seat.

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