Bumped from a Flight? Know Your Rights As a Traveler

Bumped from a flight? It’s more common than you might think. Airlines routinely oversell their flights, booking more passengers than the plane can accommodate. You might be asking why they’d do such a ridiculous thing. It all boils down to economics. Airlines have to take into account that a certain percentage of passengers may have a delay from another flight, miss their flight, cancel their tickets, or any number of other things.

Don’t be caught unaware. This is what you are entitled to if you are bumped from a flight.

Airlines overbook flights by selling last minute, highly priced tickets and then bumping people with lower priced tickets. They’ll give them a credit to take a different flight and still come out further ahead than they would if they’d forced the pricey ticket late payer to fly on a plane that wasn’t overbooked. So when you get bumped from a flight, your particular bump might be accidental, but it’s a symptom of a completely intentional money making business model. So what are your rights when you get bumped from a flight?

Usually, there’s no problem, but as we saw recently in the United incident with a forcibly removed passenger, getting bumped does NOT have to be voluntary. And it’s not always handled well.

Bumped From a Flight? Don’t end up on the news. Know what you can negotiate and what you should do next.

Your Rights if You’re Bumped from a Flight

The Voluntary Bump

A voluntary bump can be a good thing. It can also be a win/win for everyone. When the airline realizes its overbooking process is going south, they’re required to begin checking with passengers – usually at the counter – to see if they’re willing to take a bump. Unless you really have somewhere to be, it can come out cheaper for you to take the bump. You can negotiate things like free upgrades, a voucher, or even a hotel room if the bump requires you to stay overnight.

Be aware that this is all a negotiation process. They will, of course, try to low ball you at first, but you’d be surprised at what you can get just by asking.

The Involuntary Bump

Here’s where things get dicey. The airline cannot exceed passenger count. They only have so many seats, after all. The thing is, they WILL bump the lowest priced fares first, whether the flyer wants to get bumped or not. Remember that business model I talked about earlier? The Involuntary bump is a big part of it. They want the highest fares to stay on the plane.

If you’re involuntarily bumped from a flight, the compensation will likely be higher than you’d receive on a voluntary bump, especially after the United incident. However, the fact that you were involuntarily denied flight means that you likely had somewhere important to be or were otherwise inconvenienced by the whole thing.

In many cases, you’ll be entitled to a tidy sum for your trouble – up to $1,350. What you don’t know is that you can only get that if you ask. They’ll routinely try to compensate you with things like vouchers and refunds that are far less.

Here’s what the Department of Transportation says you’re entitled to:

  • If the airline provides transportation which gets you to your destination within an hour of your scheduled arrival, you get nothing.
  • The airline is required to pay you an amount equal to 200% of your one-way fare to your destination for that day up to $675 if you will arrived one to two hours late.
  • If you’ll arrive over two hours late and no substitute arrangements are made by the airline, you’re entitled to compensation of 400% of your fare up to a maximum of $1,350.
  • If you have a ticket with no fare shown such as a frequent-flyer ticket, you’ll be compensated based on the LOWEST cash value of the flight.
  • You can always keep your original ticket to use on another flight. If you choose this, you can request an involuntary refund. It’s basically a payment for your inconvenience.
  • If you paid for extras like seat selection, checked baggage, etc. and you were denied those services as a consequence of being bumped from a flight, the airline is required to repay that money to you.

Know Your Rights if You’re Bumped from a Flight

Whether you’re voluntarily or involuntarily bumped from a flight, it pays to know your rights. And the first thing to remember in all of it is that airlines CAN bump you involuntarily. If you try to fight that, you might end up on the news. Rather than go through all of that, know your rights and make the most of being bumped from a flight. Their business model is more about them than you, so make your bump ALL about you.


Mom of two beautiful active girls, traveller, fitness junkie, social media consultant, and keeper of the sanity.



    If our travel plans are flexible we actually volunteer and get vouchers for future travel, but I like to see we have rights. Thank you for sharing

  • candy

    This is wonderful information to know in case I ever do get bumped. This is why we do everything as early as possible so as not to get bumped from a flight. Unless we want to volunteer and get some free tickets for a later vacation.

  • Kelly Hutchinson

    I so appreciate you writing this post. I had no idea what your rights were if this were to happen. I also had no idea it happened so often. These are great things to know, just in case.

  • Marysa

    These are definitely good to know when traveling. We are traveling to Mexico in the fall with our kids and I don’t want to be stuck in a situation where I can’t make an informed decision.

  • Joely Smith

    So timely – not just due to the recent forced deboarding we have seen on the news. My husband was on a business trip over the past week and they overbooked by 8 people! 5 people voluntarily changed fights. The last 3 were the last three to check in – they were involuntarily switched.

  • Yeu Doi

    This was helpful. Will try to remember these suggestions next time we fly. Will not let them low ball me 🙂 Thank you.

  • Mandee

    This is good to know! I’ve never had to deal with this, however with everything in the media I have been thinking about what I would do if I were asked to leave a flight.

  • Amanda

    Ugh. One of my close friends was bumped (they gave away his seat and his three year old son’s seat) on the way home from Spring Break. It was absolutely horrible. I can’t believe airlines are allowed to separate families just in order to maintain profits.

  • David Elliott

    These are good things to be aware of, especially since what went on at United. I know about getting off flights before and I have had requests to do such a thing made, but I was never forcibly removed from a plane either.

  • Melissa Dixon

    These kind of things are why I am not a fan of public transportation. I have a hard time being surrounded by so many people that I don’t know, these tips make me feel more comfortable though, thanks for sharing!

  • Michelle Waller

    I don’t travel much, but I bet this would be frustrating. Thanks for sharing so that more people know their rights.

  • Rebecca Swenor

    This is an awesome post indeed about getting bumped from your flight. It really is important to know your rights and to know what you are entitled to receive for being inconvenience. Thanks for sharing all this information.

  • Terri Beavers

    After everything going on with United lately, it’s important to know our rights. I’ve never personally been bumped from a flight before but it would really upset me if that ever happened.

  • Beeb Ashcroft

    I have always opted for more expensive tickets simply because of these issues. However, I’ve volunteered to change flights before because it basically made my flight free and gave me credit for another flight in the future.

  • E H

    Great tips to learn about this matter. Luckily, I rarely fly anywhere, but I can see how this can be quite a headache especially for those occasions when everything is very close in time with the flight and the occasion I am trying to reach. Even if the airline were to pay me money, it would mean missing the event – I can see how this can get aggravating. It is good to know what options are out there available.

  • Victoria Heckstall

    As a traveler, you are entitled to courteous, respectful, and nonstigmatizing treatment by airline & security personnel when traveling by air. It such a great tips!

  • Mimi Green

    I’ve been on a plane when they’ve made offers if passengers gave up their seats. I was floored when I saw the recent dragging off of the plane. I need to know my rights for sure.

  • sara

    These are such great tips! I did not know a few of them. I am off on a plane next week, bookmarking this page, just in case!

  • Angela Bethea

    I totally agree that whether you’re voluntarily or involuntarily bumped from a flight, it really pays to know our rights. Thanks for sharing this informative things. I was really disgusted after seeing the United Flight incident video.

  • Oyinkan Ogunleye

    EVERYONE needs this! I don’t think it’s ever fair to ask someone to leave a flight. Definitely pinned this. I didn’t even know this was a “thing” until the incident that occurred recently.