Do you know what to do if you get bumped from a flight? The issue came up this week in light of an incident in which a man was forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight. In videos recorded by witnesses and posted to social media, passengers and other viewers were shocked and disturbed to see the man dragged out of the plane by his arms and seemingly bleeding from the face. The reason? According to USA Today, four "must-ride" United crew members needed to board in order to crew another flight in Louisville, Ky. the next day; however, all 70 seats were already filled, and not enough people volunteered to switch to a later flight to make room for the "must-ride" passengers. The man in question had been chosen by a computer and tried to refuse, explaining that he was a doctor and had patients to get to. When he refused to leave his seat, he was removed against his will by local law enforcement.
In a statement released on Monday, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz responded to the videos, saying, "This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers." Continued Munoz, "Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve the situation."
This is an extreme situation, but it raises so many questions for anyone who flies, since getting involuntarily bumped could happen to any of us. What are your rights as a passenger if you're asked to give up your seat? What are you entitled to? What are the airline's rights? Ultimately, what do you do if you get bumped from a flight? Bustle spoke with Jay Ellenby — President and CEO of Safe Harbors Business Travel, and Chairman of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) — to get some insider information. While certain elements of your travel plans are largely out of your hands, here's what you can do to try to keep things on track.
There are a few things you can do during the planning and booking process to help avoid getting involuntarily bumped from your flight, according to TravelSense.org. One is a total no-brainer: Get to the airport early. This is always a smart idea, if for no other reason than to have some wiggle room in case you run into long lines at security.
If you can, however, you might also make sure you get your seat assignment ahead of time. You'll typically have the option to pick an exact seat number when you book your flight; people with confirmed seats usually only get bumped if they arrive late and their seat is released.
If you can't get a seat ahead of time, don't forget that you can check in online, which you can usually do 24 hours before your flight. Seats that were previously unavailable may then be listed.
If you don't check in online, remember that some airlines reserve seats for airport check-in — another good reason to arrive early. Always make sure your name is on the standby seat assignment list. (And remember that even if your ticket is confirmed, as long as you don't have a seat assignment, you're standby.)
Airlines have procedures for how they pick people to bump. Take these precautions, and you may be less likely to be chosen.
2Know What You Are Entitled To In Terms Of Compensation
TravelSense.org lays out what the airline owes you if you're involuntarily bumped. This compensation is regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation. (Note, though, that if you are voluntarily bumped, compensation is not regulated.)
The money you receive depends on when the airline can get you to your destination in relation to when you were initially scheduled to arrive; however, be aware that there is no compensation if the airline arranges to get you to your destination within one hour of your original arrival time. Read the full rules at TravelSense.org.
3Know The Airline's Rights
Airlines do spell out what they are allowed to do in the event of an overbooking. For example, in United Airline's case, its contract says: "All of UA's flights are subject to overbooking which could result in UA's inability to provide previously confirmed reserved space for a given flight or for the class of service reserved." Furthermore, continues the contract, "UA shall have the right to refuse to transport or shall have the right to remove from the aircraft at any point, any passenger" who fails to comply with any of their rules and regulations.
Also be aware that while you are entitled to specific compensation, Ellenby explains that ultimately, the airline sends you on your way and you hope for the best. If connecting flights, other traveling plans, etc., are inconvenienced as a result of being involuntarily bumped, the chances are you'll be on your own.
4Know Your Own Rights
While the airline is technically the one to make the call, Ellenby explains that you can still try to get out of being involuntarily bumped. If a passenger adamantly insists that their schedule won't allow for it, the airline can move on to another person with a hopefully less pressing schedule and see if they'll switch flights.
Ellenby points out that as passengers, we all hold rights regarding our bodily safety (unless you're a threat to other people's safety). What happened on the United flight was extreme and uncommon; but, as he puts it, it's not indicative of the whole industry. There are other ways to handle this situation.
Lastly, the DOT requires airlines to give you a written statement regarding your rights, which details things like how they decided who to bump. Don't leave without this!
5Try Not To Leave The Gate Right Away
Most of the time, when you're involuntarily bumped, you have to wait until the flight is closed out before the gate agent will assist you — but this is a good thing! There's still a chance that someone won't show up and a seat will open up last minute.
Remember that the gate agent is likely the person who will be helping you book your next flight and handle your compensation, if applicable. Also remember that you can always ask to be put on another airline's flight — that is, assuming there is an available seat to that destination at the right time.
6Keep Your Original Ticket
You are always allowed to use your original ticket on another flight, according to Philly.com. Any additional services you paid for with your original flight (seat selection, luggage fees, etc.) that you needed to purchase on the replacement flight also must be refunded. Make sure you get what you are owed.
7Keep Your Mental Health In Check
Traveling is stressful even when it goes according to plans. Wellness expert Dr. Deepa Verma offers several suggestions for staying mentally healthy at the airport. For example, make sure you get some omega-3s in your diet, as they help improve mood and combat anxiety. Snack healthy with foods that keep your blood sugar balanced, and drink herbal tea — both lavender and chamomile produce a calming effect.
And remember: Sometimes, things happen that are outside of your control. That's OK — and, as the saying goes, this, too, shall pass.