‘Bumping’ regs revised

This item appears on page 20 of the June 2008 issue.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on April 14, 2008, revised the rules (Part 250) regarding the rights of passengers who are “bumped” (involuntarily denied boarding from an oversold flight) from any scheduled-service flight within or leaving the U.S., including those of foreign carriers. (Excluded are charter flights and planes with fewer than 30 seats.) The limits on the amounts that airlines must pay in compensation have increased; other changes are subtle. In this summary, the major changes are highlighted in bold.

When a flight is oversold (too many passengers for the seats available), the airline is still required to request volunteers who are willing to give up their reservations in exchange for compensation (type and amount to be decided by the airline). If there still are too many passengers, the airline is supposed to start bumping according to the airline’s rules for boarding priority.

The rules now apply to aircraft with as few as 30 passenger seats (thus covering many commuter jets). Previously, they applied to flights using aircraft with more than 60 seats. 

If the airline manages to get you on a flight that is scheduled to arrive at your destination within one hour of your original flight’s scheduled arrival time, it does not have to pay you compensation.

If the airline does not manage that one-hour window but does get you there within two hours (domestic flight) or four hours (international) of your original arrival time, compensation is due. While this compensation is calculated at 100% of the original one-way fare (based on all segments to your destination), including any surcharges and taxes, the maximum amount the airline is required to pay for this level is $400.

If the airline does not get you to your destination within this 2-/4-hour window, then the amount of compensation rises to 200% of your one-way fare, with a capped maximum of $800. (That is, if your one-way fare is less than $400, you may get not $800 but rather 200% of your one-way fare.)

How you get paid — The airline must offer to you a check or cash for the required amount of compensation. In place of the cash reward, the airline can offer you a voucher or discounted travel but must disclose to you any limitations on using it. If you do accept the money payment, the airline must get it to you within 24 hours.

If you are bumped involuntarily (volunteers do not have the same entitlement), you have the right to insist on the cash/check payment or you can refuse to accept payment and pursue a legal action (sue the airline).