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Michael Bennett is the former Senior Producer of the Travel Channels west coast operations and is currently a travel writer for Savoy and Black Enterprise Magazine. Michael is the host of Globetrotting on BET's BET on Jazz Network. For travel question write to

The Art of The Deal

Would you know what to do if you were bumped from a flight? There’s a small
group of frequent flyers who have mastered the fine art of repeatedly booking
themselves on oversold flights. Why you might ask? To take advantage of the
many perks offered by the airlines when asked to give up their seat. Those
perks include free round trip tickets and cash. With the holidays rapidly
approaching, the airlines penchant for overbooking and the decrease in
capacity since September 11, being bumped from a flight is a very real
possibility. More than one million people were bumped from the top ten
airlines last year alone. So how do you handle yourself in the event you’re
asked to give up your seat?

First, the basics: If an airline bumps you, the Department of Transportation
requires that the airline cover the cost of your flight as long as, (a.) you
hold a confirmed reservation with a paid ticket and (b.) you met the check-in
deadline for the flight. Here’s where it can get a little hairy. Each
airline has their own check-in deadline and it’s not necessarily when you
check-in at the ticket counter. It’s the time you check-in at the departure
gate. Some airlines have a ten-minute boarding gate deadline, others
thirty-minutes. If you check-in at the ticket counter make absolutely sure
you ask the ticket agent if you need to check-in at the gate, then make sure
you get to the gate on time. If you’re one of those passengers who like to
visit the souvenir or coffee shop and rush on to the plane at the last
second, you could be out of luck. Some carriers, such as Southwest won’t
give you a boarding pass until you check-in at the gate others of course give
you that pass at the ticket counter.

It’s also important to note the difference between involuntary and voluntary
bumping. Let’s deal with involuntary bumping first. If you are the last one
to check-in or never bothered to get a confirmed seat assignment in advance,
you are a prime candidate for getting the boot to a later flight. Also, if
all you have is carry-on luggage, you’ve moved to the top of the list of
potential targets to get bumped. Why, because the airlines don’t have to
find and remove your bags before the flight leaves.

The airlines have a few minimum obligations to its passengers if they are
involuntarily bumped.

ÿ If the airline can put you on another flight, whether it is theirs or
someone else’s, and it is scheduled to arrive within one hour of your
original arrival time, they owe you nothing.

ÿ If you arrive later than one hour, but within two hours of your original
flight arrival time, the airline must reimburse you for the cost of the
one-way fare, up to $200.

ÿ If your final arrival time is greater than two hours, you are entitled to
twice the amount of the one-way fare up to $400.

If you should suffer the misfortune of having to stay overnight in a city
because there were no flights available, overnight accommodations are at the
discretion of the individual carrier. The Federal Aviation Administration
requires the airlines to give you a check, free tickets or whatever
compensation they’ve offered you, provided they meet the minimum requirements
listed above, immediately. If you accept the compensation, case closed. But
if the compensation doesn’t cover your losses for being bumped, you can
negotiate directly with a supervisor or the airlines complaint department.
Remember, the requirements listed above are minimum requirements; you can and
should ask for more.

Voluntarily giving up your seat presents a whole host of options that several
frequent flyers have turned into a cottage industry. To make this work you
must have time to spare, if you’re on a tight schedule forget volunteering
your seat. Let’s say you arrive at the gate for your departure and the
flight is oversold. The gate agent offers you a free round trip ticket if
you volunteer to give up your seat for a later flight. Before accepting that
free round trip ticket you need to ask a few questions. First, can the
airline guarantee you a confirmed seat on another flight that meets your
needs? In some cases the airline will offer you a standby seat rather than a
confirmed seat, so be careful and make sure your seat is confirmed. Second,
the free ticket being offered is usually in the form of a voucher. Ask if
that voucher is for a restricted or unrestricted ticket. Some vouchers have
blackout dates and only allow you to travel standby. If the wait between
your old and new flight is a long one, don’t be afraid to ask for meal
vouchers and phone calls.

The best part of being bumped from a flight occurs when no one jumps at the
airlines initial offer. Most seasoned travelers know if they hold out they
can squeeze more out of an airline that a single round trip ticket. I have
actually seen people walk off with vouchers worth two to three times their
original ticket price plus cash in exchange for their seat. I’ve also heard
of passengers being bumped off not one but two flights in a single day.

If you’re bumped voluntarily or involuntarily and you have connecting flights
make sure the airline changes your entire itinerary. There have been times
when a passenger gets bumped to a later flight and wound up missing their
connection in another city. The airline, thinking the passenger was no show,
cancels the reservations. Then your stuck in another city making alternate
travel plans. And in the day and age of e-tickets you could be in for a long
argument with an airline ticket agent.