The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
How to Beat the Bump
April 1, 1996 -- The good news: U.S. airlines carry 460 million passengers a year and only about 48,000 travelers are "bumped" and left at the gate against their will.

The bad news: if you're the one in 10,000 who is a victim of what the airlines euphemistically call "involuntary denied boarding," the compensation you'll receive is rarely worth the disruption in your travel plans.

Although the odds are heavily in your favor, it does take planning to avoid being bumped during the hectic summer travel season. It's also important to know your rights if you lose your seat. Here's what to do.

Book the back of the bus Many airlines offer advance seat assignments and boarding passes when you make reservations. That's the time to seize the tactical high ground. Reserve a seat at the back of the plane. The best defense against "bumping" is to be seated before the airline runs out of chairs. And who gets to board the plane first? The passengers whose seats are located in the back rows.

Get to the gate on time Having an advance boarding pass and a seat in the back mean nothing if you're late. Airlines require that you "check in"--in other words, be at your gate and prepared to board--at least ten minutes before domestic departures and as much as three hours before an international departure. Be sure to ask the airline about its rules when you make your reservation. If you're not at the gate on time, the airline will cancel your reservation and you have no legal recourse.

Learn the loopholes One reason the airlines have such a minuscule rate of "involuntary denied boarding" is that there are several gigantic loopholes in the bumping regulations. Charter flights are exempt from the bumping rules. So are scheduled flights operated with planes that hold 60 or fewer passengers. Flyers who voluntarily surrender their seats--almost 800,000 did last year--don't count. And here are two sneaky ones: if an airline cancels your flight, you aren't officially bumped. You aren't even considered bumped if an airline substitutes a smaller plane for the one it originally planned to use and leaves you behind.

Know your rights If the worst happens and you are the unlucky one in 10,000 that gets officially and involuntarily bumped, the government requires the airline to give you a written statement of your rights. Yet I've never seen such a statement nor met a traveler who has received one. That's why you need to know your rights.

If you're involuntarily bumped from a domestic flight and the airline can get you to your final destination within an hour of your original arrival time, you aren't eligible for any financial compensation. If the airline gets you to your final destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time, you receive an amount equal to the price of your one-way ticket up to a maximum of $200. Compensation doubles if you are delayed by more than two hours or the airline the refuses to make alternative arrangements. All bumped passengers keep their original ticket and can use it on another flight.


Airline Bumped* Ratio**

Southwest 17,177 3.43

America West 3,914 2.28

Alaska 1,604 1.59

USAir 7,637 1.35

TWA 1,699 0.82

Delta 6,608 0.80

Continental 2,225 0.67

American 3,282 0.45

United 2,961 0.41

Northwest 1,558 0.34

Total 48,665 1.06


*Passengers involuntarily denied boarding in 1995

**Per 10,000 passengers

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation


This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.

This column is Copyright 1996 - 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.