What You Should Know If Your Flight Has Been Oversold

Flickr | Andrew Malone

So everyone has definitely seen the awful video of a man getting yanked out of his seat on a United flight from Chicago to Louisville. The whole video is a mess from start to finish, and later footage released of the dazed man repeating “just kill me” has not made matters better.

United is dealing with a veritable storm of bad PR. But for us lowly fliers, many of us are left wondering what to do if we’re ever in the same situation.

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers:

1. It’s Legal For You To Be Physically Removed From Your Seat

Yep. An airline can pretty much yank you out of your seat for whatever reason they find valid. It’s sky law—their way, or the highway. Unfortunately, the terms of service on United flights say they can pull you off the plane if they deem necessary.

“They have the right to do that under the terms of carriage,” explains aviation consultant and former airline executive Robert Mann to Consumer Reports. Ah yes, the terms of carriage, something no passenger has probably ever read. Well, that fine print says an airline can kick a passenger off before the plane departs for basically any reason. OK, fine.


2. Airlines Are Obligated To Compensate You

Just because the airline can kick you off doesn’t mean they can totally screw you over. In fact, according to that carrier agreement, “UA shall pay compensation to Passengers denied boarding involuntarily from an Oversold Flight at the rate of 400% of the fare to the Passenger’s first Stopover or, if none, Destination with a maximum of $1,350 USD.” This rate is in line with the Department of Transportation’s Fly Rights.

In plain English, this means that United has to pay you a good chunk of change if they want you off that flight. According to a number of passengers onboard, the airline only offered travel vouchers up to $800—more than $500 less than the maximum they could have. United Airlines says that it offered $1,000 before the passenger was dragged off the plane.

How much an airline offers is based on when your rebooked flight is scheduled to arrive at your final destination. A rescheduled flight that gets you to your destination within two hours of your scheduled arrival must pay 200 percent of your one-way fare with a maximum of $650. If the airline can get you to your final destination within an hour of your scheduled arrival time, they’re not obligated to provide any compensation.

delayed flight photo
Getty Images | Spencer Platt

3. You Can Ask For Cash Instead Of A Voucher

You also have the right to demand cash (in the form of a check) instead of a travel voucher. The DOT specifies “compensation” in its Fly Rights language—not “voucher.” Many airlines will offer vouchers off the bat, but they should accommodate your request for cash if you ask.

cash photo
Flickr | 401(K) 2013

RELATED: Flying With A Baby? Make Sure You Request This From Your Airline

Although getting bumped due to an oversold flight is never ideal, at least you can be informed about what your rights are when it happens. Safe travels!

Life, Money

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About the Author
Jessica Suss
Current high-school English teacher, native Chicagoan, and nut butter enthusiast moonlighting as a writer.

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