Bumping Rates Rise: Know Your Rights

Getting bumped from a flight is rare enough that air travel analyst Rick Seaney was once moved to compare it to the odds of dating a supermodel (1 in 178,000 although your chances improve significantly, noted Seaney, “if you live in New York or Los Angeles, make a lot of money, and are very handsome”). But bumping rates are on the rise.

Listen to air travel expert Rick Seaney describe his own adventures with bumping:

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Chances of Being Bumped – 1 in 10,000

According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, in the last three months of 2012, the chance of being involuntarily bumped – or denied boarding – was about one per every 10,000 passengers. Rare it may be but that’s still a fairly significant increase over the same period of the year before. Take a look:

Number of Flyers Involuntarily Bumped per 10,000 Passengers

  • 2011 4th Quarter: 0.65
  • 2012 4th Quarter: 1.00

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How Bumping Happens

Involuntary bumping, sometimes referred to as a denied boarding, is what can happen when airlines overbook flights. Overbooking is done to combat no-shows but sometimes airlines miscalculate so bumping kicks in.

First they troll for voluntary bumpees, people willing to give up their seats – for a price. When that well runs dry, involuntary bumping begins and it targets the least loyal flyers, those who are not members of a miles program or have fewest miles. These folks are also compensated.

Bumping Payouts

The rate of compensation was boosted a couple of years ago, and you can learn more in the Department of Transportation’s publication, Fly-Rights, A Consumer Guide to Air Travel. The highlights for involuntarily bumpees:

  • If the airline arranges substitute transportation scheduled to arrive at your destination within 1 hour of original scheduled arrival time: No compensation.
  • If the airline arranges substitute transportation scheduled to arrive at your destination between 1 and 2 hours after original arrival time (or between 1 and 4 hours for international flights): Compensation is equal to 200% of one-way fare or $650 maximum.
  • If arrival is more than 2 hours later (4 hours internationally), or no substitute travel arrangements are made: Compensation doubles to 400% of one-way fare or $1300 maximum.

Note: You can take your compensation in cash; you are under no obligation to accept vouchers.

Best and Worst Airlines for Bumping

This is how the airlines ranked for all of 2012, according to BTS numbers. JetBlue came out on top with just 0.01 ‘involuntary denied boardings’ while Mesa Airlines was last with 2.54.

  1. JetBlue
  2. Virgin America
  3. Hawaiian
  4. Delta
  5. Alaska
  6. US Airways
  7. American
  8. Frontier
  9. Southwest
  10. AirTran
  11. American Eagle
  12. United
  13. ExpressJet
  14. SkyWest
  15. Mesa


Published: May 9, 2013