Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Know Your Rights When You’re on an Overbooked Flight

Locations in this article:  Chicago, IL

airplaneIn the immediate aftermath of the United Airlines fiasco—I can’t call it anything else—when a passenger was dragged off the plane in Chicago, most folks wanted to learn about rights they didn’t have as passengers (i.e., when an airline can literally throw you off its plane).

They can remove you if you’re drunk, disorderly, on drugs, have offensive bodily odor, or are considered too fat to safely evacuate the plane in an emergency—or prevent others from doing so.

If you disobey or refuse to comply with any request from a member of a flight crew—pilot or flight attendant—you’re gone.

Those rules have been in effect for years and are part of the contract of carriage.

Some of these contracts run more than 45 pages.

But remember, there are some rights you do have.

If you’ve boarded the flight and hold a bona fide boarding pass and seat assignment, that seat is the one you bought and are entitled to.

If the airline overbooks the flight, it is required to ask for volunteers—emphasis on the word volunteer—willing to give up a seat in exchange for a cash voucher and the promise the airline will get them where they need to go on the airline’s next available flight.

If no one volunteers, the value of the voucher increases until someone volunteers.

In the Chicago case, the offer went up to $850, and then the airline arbitrarily ordered four passengers off.

But the important point here is that the offer could have—and should have — gone higher.

So, if you find yourself in a similar situation and have any flexibility in your schedule, stay in your seat until the dollar amount is attractive.

When I was on an overbooked flight and the offer rose to $1500, I stood up and was nearly trampled by other passengers.

The moral to this story is someone always volunteers.

Unfortunately, United Airlines was incredibly penny wise and stupidly pound foolish.

For more information about air travel, check out:

Keep reading for more travel tips.