Surprising as it might sound, overbooking flights is not illegal. Although it is more likely to happen in the United States rather than in Europe, there are regulations on both continents that ensure passenger rights are protected.
The first thing airline representatives usually do when a flight is overbooked is ask for volunteers willing to give up their confirmed reserved space in exchange for compensation like vouchers, air miles, and other perks.
If not enough passengers are ready to surrender their seats, the staff has to randomly choose who will not be let on board. The criteria could be based on the check-in time, ticket fare, or frequent flyer status. However, the airline has to have fair boarding priorities, and cannot discriminate based on race or ethnicity for example. Additionally, passengers with reduced mobility or children traveling on their own cannot be denied boarding.
What to do if you are denied boarding against your will
In order to be entitled to compensation, first and foremost you should not give up your seat voluntarily. If you agree to receive any perks from the airline, you might not get the reimbursement guaranteed by the law. Of course, the offer could be good and the final decision about accepting it is yours and yours only.
Apart from that, stick to the following list:
- Hold on to all your travel documents, especially your boarding pass.
- Get a written confirmation from the gate agent that you are involuntarily bumped (due to overbooking or a change of aircraft).
- Request an alternate flight or a ticket refund from the airline.
- If you need to wait at least 2 hours for the alternate flight, the airline must offer a meal and refreshment.
- If you have to wait 6 or more hours, request free accommodation and transportation to and from the airport.
- All additional expenses that resulted from you being denied boarding need to be documented, so keep all receipts.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation there are several “bumping” situations which exclude the chance for you to receive any compensation:
- Aircraft change: the airline needs to use a smaller plane for operational or safety reasons;
- Weight and balance: planes with 60 or fewer seats could be the object of weight and balance restrictions for safety reasons;
- Downgrading: if you were supposed to be in Business class but you were bumped to Economy, you are only entitled to a refund for the price difference;
- Charter flights: flights that are not on the regular schedule;
- Small aircraft: planes with less than 30 passenger seats;
- International flights: either the airline will voluntarily provide you with some compensation, or you will be able to claim compensation under EU laws (if your flight is to/from a European airport);
- Extraordinary circumstances: you as a passenger engage in unruly behavior or pose a threat to the safety of other passengers and the aircraft crew.
You are also not eligible for compensation if you arrived at the airport late, didn’t have the required documents, or represented a security or health concern.
Amount of compensation
The amount of compensation you can get depends on the applicable regulation (EU or US). If you are denied boarding for flights departing from the US, going to Europe, and operated by an EU airline, you have passenger rights under both US and EU laws. However, you may not claim compensation under both, so you have to choose the legal scenario that would be most beneficial to you.
Under EU regulation 261/2004 the amount of money you can receive depends on the distance of your flight distance and itinerary. The compensation amount ranges from €250 to €600. You can consult the table below for more details.
|€ 250||All flights up to 1500 km|
|€ 400||ECAA flights of more than 1,500 km and
/all others between 1,500 and 3,500 km
|€ 600||All other flights of more than 3,500 km|
The United States
If you happen to be involuntarily denied boarding on a flight to/from the United States, the amount of your compensation depends on the arrival time at your final destination and the price of your ticket. US regulations are different than the EU ones, here are the conditions and the reimbursement amounts you can apply for:
- 0 to 1 hour arrival delay: you are not eligible for any compensation;
- Arrival delay of 1 to 2 hours: 200% of one-way fare (may be limited to $775 by the airline if 200% of the paid fare exceeds $775);
- Arrival delay of more than 2 hours: 400% of one-way fare (may be limited to $1,550 by the airline if 400% of the paid fare exceeds $1,550).
Claim your compensation
If you were denied boarding on an oversold flight, you can submit your claim for compensation here and leave the rest to the SkyRefund team. We will do all the administrative and legal work for you and only charge you if we negotiate a reimbursement. Read our full guide on denied boarding compensation here. You can also submit a claim if you experienced a flight delay or cancellation.