Listen, travel is stressful as is, and it's even worse when you encounter flight delays and cancellations. But I'd argue it's even worse to be on an oversold flight: When an airline overbooks a flight, they often ask passengers to volunteer their seats, get off the plane and take a later flight, which can often affect travel plans. A passenger who was recently scheduled to fly United Airlines had this experience, as documented via Twitter — but ultimately, she was given a $10,000 travel voucher after she gave up her seat, Yahoo reported, and it's leaving a lot of us jealous. When reached for comment, United told Bustle confirmed that they issued the voucher in accordance with the airline's policies.
Allison Preiss, the managing director of communications at the Center for American Progress, was traveling from Washington, D.C. to Austin, Texas Thursday when she found out her flight was overbooked — according to Preiss' Twitter, she found out she was the lowest fare passenger and wouldn't be allowed to board the flight. Preiss detailed the saga in a Twitter thread that garnered thousands of likes. "@united IS THE WORST," she tweeted.
Then, things took a turn for the better. Preiss asked for cash in exchange for not boarding the flight, she says, but the airline wouldn't budge. Instead, they offered her the $10,000 flight credit.
Not only can she travel pretty much anywhere in the world for free, but she also got a free dinner out of the ordeal.
So what's the deal with overbooking, and can we all get as lucky as Preiss? According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, overbooking is a normal practice that allows airlines to make up for people who miss the flight. "Passengers are sometimes left behind or 'bumped' as a result. When an oversale occurs, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to ask people who aren't in a hurry to give up their seats voluntarily, in exchange for compensation. Those passengers bumped against their will are, with a few exceptions, entitled to compensation," the agency says.
Usually, the airline looks for volunteers to give up their seats before boarding, and if you aren't in a hurry to reach your destination, it's actually a pretty sweet deal: You receive a flight voucher or some other form of compensation in exchange for a few hours of waiting. The DOT recommends asking questions before accepting a voucher, like when the next flight is (and whether that one, too, will be overbooked) and whether the airline will provide meals, accommodations and other amenities. You can negotiate with an airline, too — you technically have the upper hand, so don't be afraid to ask for what you want. If no one volunteers, then an airline can kick people off against their will, and you can get cash for the inconvenience. But if you want to avoid all of the stress and get to your destination on time, the DOT has some tips.
When a flight is oversold and there are not enough volunteers, some airlines bump passengers with the lowest fares first. Others bump the last passengers to check in. Once you have purchased your ticket, the most effective way to reduce the risk of being bumped is to get to the airport early. For passengers in the same fare class the last passengers to check in are usually the first to be bumped, even if they have met the check-in deadline. Allow extra time; assume that the roads are backed up, the parking lot is full, and there is a long line at the check-in counter.
In Preiss' case, there wasn't much that she could do — being the lowest fare passenger isn't something you have much control over. She seemed to take it all in stride. Sure, the ordeal was probably unnecessarily stressful, but she now has a few free tickets to anywhere in the world coming her way. I'm definitely jealous.