Air Travelers: Been Bumped? Know Your Passenger Rights

Editor's note: This week, Mark Britton, long time legal counsel for Expedia, stops by to shed some light on the often confusing and nerve-wracking topic of air passengers' rights.

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I often am asked about an airline’s right to bump someone without his or her consent. This is partly because I was the long-time general counsel at Expedia, partly because I now run Avvo and its Q&A forum, and partly because the cash-strapped airlines are bumping people more than ever.

The first thing to keep in mind is that there are two types of “bumps”””one you agree to and one you don’t. The first is not that interesting because if you volunteer to give up your seat, you don’t have much room to complain. However, if the airline takes your seat, what are your rights?

© Aaron Escobar

The good news is that, even though travelers have very few rights beyond the airline’s carriage agreement, involuntary bumping is one area where the Federal Aviation Administration has issued guidelines to decrease the possibility that you will strangle an airline representative. If you are bumped involuntarily:

  • The airline is required to explain your rights in a written document. Make sure you get this document and understand it.
  • You are entitled to compensation for your inconvenience. However, the airlines will always try to accommodate you on another flight. This is because they do not need to compensate you if they find you alternative transportation that gets you to your destination within one hour of your scheduled arrival.
  • If you are not happy with the airline’s accommodation, you can always request an “involuntary refund” for your ticket and make your own travel arrangements.

Keep in mind that the airlines have the right to deny you boarding, so before you stomp your feet on the customer service counter make sure that you have not done any of the following:

  • Failed to meet the airline’s check-in deadlines. For most domestic flights, this is one hour before scheduled departure and for international flights two hours.
  • Acted disorderly, abusive or violent””intoxication-related behavior included. Since 9-11, if you stumble onto your flight, the flight crew doesn’t take any risks and will likely help you stumble right back to the boarding area.
  • Refused to permit the airlines to search your person or property for explosives or weapons.
  • Boarded the plane barefoot or are unable to fasten the seat belt around your waist. (honest)

It’s usually pretty easy to meet these requirements, but it’s also important to know they exist. If you have other travel-related legal questions, you can get them answered at Avvo. You can go directly to our free legal advice Q&A forum to ask your personal legal questions””anonymously if desired””and real attorneys will answer them.

So, know your rights, and hopefully your bumping days will be extremely few and far between.

About The Author

Mark Britton is the founder, CEO, and president of, a website that helps consumers find a lawyer and receive free legal advice. Mark is a 16-year lawyer with deep experience in the legal and travel industries. Prior to founding Avvo, Mark was the executive vice president of worldwide corporate affairs of InterActiveCorp Travel and Expedia.

2 Responses

  1. lissie

    You’re lucky to have those regs. Outside of the US even Qantas (who is no supposed to be a budget carrier) kept passengers waiting overnight with no recompense because of a mechanical problem. once upon a time you got a free hotel/meal etc – not anymore. You might as well fly the cheapest airline which don’t pretend to give you any rights anyway

  2. Jarrod

    Man, wish I had this article for my last Delta flight to Fairbanks. Great article; think I’m going to bring it to the airport with me next week.

    I love this blog. I’m adding a link to it on my site. Hope that’s ok!


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