Why you might get bumped off a flight


After the event that took place this past spring, whereby a passenger was forcibly removed from a United flight, it’s no surprise that the words bumped off a flight tend to bring about some pretty negative feelings.

Getting bumped from a flight is not an uncommon occurrence; airlines frequently overbook flights and will, at times, require passengers to disembark from the flight, voluntarily and involuntarily. So, why does overbooking happen and how can you avoid being bumped from your next flight? Keep reading to find out!


Why do airlines overbook?

Airlines do not overbook flights with the end goal of bumping passengers. They actually overbook flights to ensure that all the seats are filled, knowing that some passengers will: miss their flight/connection, arrive too late to the airport, cancel their flight at the last minute, or will simply not show up. As well, passengers can sometimes be bumped off a flight if the airline is required to change from a larger aircraft to a smaller one, and consequently, has less room.

When overbooking occurs and one or more passengers need to be bumped, flight attendants will ask for volunteers to willingly give up their seat. In the event that no passenger willingly volunteers, flight attendants then move on to involuntary bumping.

Though involuntary bumping may seem like an everyday occurrence, that actually isn’t the case. According to the US Department of Transportation, less than 1 out of 10,000 people are involuntarily bumped from flights.2 And this is the lowest it’s been since 1995.3


Perks of being bumped off a flight

Now, you might be wondering how being bumped from a flight possibly have its perks –believe me, there are some.

Depending on where you’re flying from, airlines will usually offer compensation for being bumped from a flight, as an incentive for passengers to voluntarily give up their seat.

In the United States, passengers bumped from flights are able to benefit from a strict set of guidelines, determined by the Department of Transportation.

In the U.S., passengers bumped from flights benefit from a strict set of guidelines Click To Tweet


  • If you’re bumped from your flight and your substitute transportation is set to arrive one to two hours after your original arrival time (one to four hours for international flights), you’re owed 200% of your ticket price, up to $675.


  • If you’re bumped from your flight and your substitute transportation is set to arrive more than two hours after your original arrival time (more than four hours for international flights), you’re owed 400% of your ticket price, up to $1350.4


Tip 1

Try to negotiate to receive your compensation in cash, instead of a flight voucher –vouchers often have loopholes, such as an expiry date.


If you’re bumped from your flight, try to receive your compensation in cash to avoid vouchers loopholes Click To Tweet


Tip 2

You’re no longer able to negotiate or ask for more money once you’ve cashed the check from the airline.


Tip 3

If you did not receive additional services (such as seat selection, checked baggage, etc.) on your substitute flight, however, you paid for them on your original flight, the original airline must refund you those payments.2


Tip 4

Before accepting a deal, ascertain that you will have a confirmed seat on the next available flight. If being bumped will cause a lengthy delay and require you to rearrange your hotel accommodation, ensure that rescheduling or cancelling your hotel will not result in additional fees.3


In Canada, the rules are a little murkier – the amount of compensation is at the discretion of the individual airline. However, the Canadian government is looking to rectify this and plans to include bumping regulations in a passenger bill of rights that will establish clear rules for compensation for the passengers of overbooked flights and for lost luggage.5


Will bumping ever stop?

So, will airlines ever stop overbooking flights, and consequently bumping passengers? At the moment, it seems unlikely.

While it would be great to arrive at the airport feeling confident that you’ll board your flight without any issues, to completely stop overbooking flights would come at a price –airlines would have to raise their ticket prices in order to regain their lost revenue.1


How to avoid being bumped off a flight

If you’re flying and have a flexible schedule, voluntarily giving up your seat can actually be to your advantage, however, if you’re travelling for business and must arrive at your destination on time, here are a few handy tips to avoid being involuntarily bumped:


  • Check-in for your flight 24 hours in advance – Some airlines will involuntarily bump passengers based on when they checked-in; avoid this by checking-in as soon as you’re able to. Also, making your seat selection at the time of your booking is another way to help secure your spot on your flight.2


  • Fare Class – Choosing the lowest fare doesn’t always work to your advantage! Airlines are more likely to bump passengers who purchase a lower cost ticket than those flying in business or first class.


  • Itinerary – Though this isn’t something that is necessarily in your control, it’s still good to know. Airlines are much less likely to bump a passenger that has a complicated itinerary, such as multiple connections, due to the rescheduling complications.


  • Loyalty Programs – If you frequently fly with the same airline, be sure to enroll in their frequent flyer program. Airlines are much less likely to bump a passenger who is a member of their frequent flyer program, than a passenger who is not.


What sort of incentive would you need to voluntarily give up your seat on a flight? We want to know in the comments below!



  1. CBC News: Why airlines overbook flights and what bumped passengers can do about it
  2. The Traveler’s Journey: Can an airline bump you from a flight? by Zach Garrett
  3. CNBC: How to play the airline bumping game to your advantage by Kelly Song
  4. Fox News: Bumped from a flight? Know your rights before you fly by Sky McCarthy
  5. Global News: What are your rights on an overbooked flight? by Jessica Vomiero

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