Tonight I did some traveling, but it wasn't the kind I wanted. I am at my parents house because the car I worked on here today fell apart further when we were heading to my mothers birthday dinner. It is probably a thermostat, but I will find out the damage tomorrow morning.
What Is Bumping?
To be bumped from a flight is to be denied a seat on a plane when you have a confirmed reservation. It results from overbooking, an airline practice designed to fill the empty seats that absent passengers leave behind. The more popular a route, the more likely the flight is to be oversold. Keep in mind, passengers ticketed on flights cancelled due to bad weather are not eligible for bumping benefits. The Department of Transportation requires commercial airlines flying 60 passengers or more and originating in the United States to seek out volunteers before bumping anyone.
Such volunteers can receive lucrative rewards, from cash to free air vouchers. In general, the longer the delay, the better the payoff, and if the airline cannot secure enough volunteers to forfeit their seats the first time around, the payoff will generally increase as the flight nears take-off time and the airline grows more desperate to empty seats. Some airlines will even offer meals, free drink coupons, free headsets on the next flight, an upgrade to first-class, a free long-distance phone call, or admission into the swanky airline clubs (Some smaller commuter airlines don’t offer the extra free items).
The Transportation Department closely monitors bumping and issues frequent reports helpful for travelers serious about getting or not getting bumped from a flight. Use the following link to find the latest statistics:
How to Get Bumped
First, determine what flights are most likely to be overbooked:
- Routes frequented by business travelers, and on those routes, particularly on Monday mornings and the hours between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays.
- Departures after noon on Fridays or on Sunday evenings
- Pre- and post-holiday flights
- Transcontinental nonstops
- Popular routes
- Routes that have scant nonstop or direct service with no change of planes
- Turbo-prop type airplanes that may become overweight
Get to the gate early. Airline rules typically state that if you don't arrive at least 10 - 20 minutes before the scheduled departure, you will forfeit your reservation and have to fend for yourself. In most cases, incidentally, airlines are not required to compensate you for the missed flight.
Don't hassle the gate attendants. Arrive early and let them know you're a willing volunteer, then simply remain near the gate where they can contact you if needed. Asking about the status of the flight every five minutes or becoming rude or impolite will not make the attendants very anxious to hand you cash or free flight vouchers.
Before you volunteer, make sure the payoff is worth it. Is it possible to get cash rather then a flight voucher? If not, does the flight voucher have a long enough life to make it useful for your travel needs? Does it apply to all airfares, even the lowest, most restrictive fares? Are there blackout dates? Is the alternate flight you are booked on acceptable or are you on standby for another oversold flight? In addition, don't be afraid to ask for extras -- meal vouchers, calling cards, free admission to the airport club, a seat upgrade -- the worst the airline can say is no.
How to Avoid Bumping
If you have obligations in your destination city and absolutely cannot afford to be bumped from a flight, arrive as early as possible to the airport, especially if you're taking a popular route. Better yet, check in online before you even leave for the airport (THIS IS KEY!!!). The last to check in to the flight are typically the ones who find themselves bumped involuntarily. If you're at the gate before the majority of the passengers have checked in, your chances of retaining your original reservation are favorable.
The Department of Transportation statistics show that in the second quarter of 2006, only 1.2 of every 10,000 airline passengers were bumped. This number often increases over the holidays and other busy travel seasons, but the volunteer system does in fact work very well, and it is unlikely you will be denied boarding on your next trip.
I currently have a couple of vouchers for being bumped, and I am waiting for a few more. I have never used one of the vouchers but plan to this spring. Have fun bumping!