(NEXSTAR) – Selling more tickets than there are seats on a plane seems like it should be illegal, but it’s not. If you find yourself on the losing end of this frustrating game of musical chairs, you may be able to demand compensation, according to the Department of Transportation.
While it may be a maddening concept for customers who have to watch the gates close without them, there’s a reason why “bumping” happens, the DOT says.
Airlines usually have a pretty good idea of how many “no shows” they’ll have for scheduled flights, so they will oversell tickets to fill the plane.
A recent viral TikTok by lawyer Erika Kullberg broke down the “involuntary denied boarding practice” and demonstrated how you might be owed $1,000 for being bumped off a flight.
Kullberg, who prides herself in “reading the fine print” to help people navigate similar situations, used the DOT’s rules for the video, but it’s also worth remembering that the compensation in her video is only the minimum required. There’s no maximum that would prevent an airline from giving more to remedy a situation.
“Most of the time, airlines correctly predict the ‘no shows’ and everything goes smoothly,” according to the DOT. “But sometimes, passengers are bumped as a result of oversales practices.”
Am I owed compensation?
Before bumping passengers, an airline must first put out a call to anyone interested in voluntarily giving up their seat, usually in exchange for money or vouchers that are open to negotiation.
If no one steps forward, the airline will “involuntarily deny boarding,” or bump, someone so the flight can leave. You qualify for compensation if you were bumped from an oversold flight and:
- You have a confirmed reservation
- You checked in on time
- You arrived at the departure gate on time
- The airline cannot get you to your destination within one hour of your flight’s original arrival time
You won’t be owed compensation in the following situations:
- Passengers moved to a smaller plane for safety or operational reasons
- There are weight and balance concerns on a plane with 60 or fewer seats
- Being downgraded to another seat class (the airline does, however, have to refund the price difference)
- If it’s a charter flight that’s contracted for a specific trip that is not part of the airline’s regular schedule
- It’s a small aircraft (less than 30 passengers)
- The flight is departing from a foreign location (the airline may still voluntarily provide compensation)
The DOT also reminds customers that being forced off of a flight for intoxication, interfering with the jobs of crew members, unruly behavior or offensive odors is not grounds for compensation.
How much will I get?
If you are bumped from a flight, how much you might receive from the airline will depend on the price of your ticket, how long your arrival is delayed and whether you’re flying domestically or internationally.
For domestic flights, if the delay is between one and two hours, the compensation is 200% of a one-way fare. Over two hours will get you 400% of that cost, but airlines in both cases may limit the payout to $775 and $1,550, respectively, if the one-way fare exceeds those amounts.
For international travel, a one to four hour arrival delay will be compensated with 200% of a one-way fare, while the 400% compensation is reserved for delays over four hours.