Have you ever had your travel plans suddenly dashed by the dreaded “denied boarding” scenario? Don’t get too upset because you might be entitled to some serious cash to make up for the inconvenience. So sit back, relax, and let’s talk about denied boarding compensation.
However, if you’re watching this while sitting in the airport after being kicked off your flight, hide your screen because I’m about to share secrets that the Airline doesn’t want you to know.
Table of Contents
What is Denied Boarding?
First, let’s start with the basics. All airlines routinely sell more tickets than the plane can hold passengers. It’s good business sense because there are always a few cancellations or no-shows.
Denied boarding occurs when more people actually show up for the flight than the plane has seats. When this happens, the airline is going to have to deny boarding to some passengers. It’s not like any of you are going to be able to sit on anyone else’s lap.
So, how does the airline decide who will be denied boarding?
Can you volunteer to be denied boarding?
Before airlines can involuntarily deny boarding to you, they are first required by Federal Law to request volunteers. Here’s your first chance to score a payday or free trips. Under Federal Law, you aren’t considered a “volunteer” for denied boarding unless you respond to the airline’s request for volunteers, AND actually accept the airline’s offer of compensation.
Personally, if I hear the airline request volunteers, and I’m not trying to get to a scheduled hearing, I’ll go and ask how much they’re willing to pay. Recently, Delta Airlines offered passengers $10,000.00 to volunteer to give up their seats. If I’m in no hurry, you can bet I’m taking a $10,000.00 payday to arrive a little late!
The airline may not only offer money as compensation, but may offer free or reduced airfare. If this is offered, then they’re required to inform you about any additional fees, restrictions, or blackout dates before you make your decision.
Personally, if the airline isn’t offering a really good cash option, then I’m not interested in free airfare. However, I’ll definitely try to negotiate for a Companion Pass because that’s just as good as a Buy-One-Get-One-Free for a whole year! It hasn’t worked yet, but I’m going to keep trying.
All that being said, you’re probably wondering what happens if the airline doesn’t get enough volunteers.
Who gets involuntarily denied boarding?
If there aren’t enough volunteers, the airline gets to decide who is involuntarily denied boarding. It’s the most intense game of “guess-who” you’ve ever played. Let’s take a little of the guesswork out of the game.
Airlines are required to establish, and publish, their involuntary denied boarding policies. However, federal law says the factors that the airlines can consider include, but are not limited to:
- A passenger’s time of check-in;
- Whether a passenger has a seat assignment before reaching the departure gate for carriers that assign seats;
- The fare paid by a passenger;
- A passenger’s frequent-flyer status; and
- A passenger’s disability or status as an unaccompanied minor.
American Airlines considers whether you have AAdvantage elite status or whether you have First Class, Business Class, or Premium Economy. Delta prioritizes passengers without “elite status” by first class tickets, and then by time of check in. Southwest on the other hand are absolutely brutal and will begin denying boarding to the last person who checked in with “no preference given to any particular person or category of Fares.”
Once the airline involuntarily denies boarding to you, they’re required to give you verbal notification, and a written explanation of your rights. We’re not going to cover everything that the law requires to be in the written explanation, but you can read about it here. Denied Boarding Compensation Statement
-See 14 C.F.R. § 250.9
Before you start thinking about that payday for being involuntarily denied boarding, you need to be aware that there are a couple of exceptions that might prevent you from being compensated.
Can the airline avoid paying you?
Unfortunately, just because you get bumped from a flight doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed to get denied boarding compensation. As with any rule, there are exceptions to the rule.
According to Federal Law, the airline isn’t required to pay you if you’re denied boarding because:
- You fail to comply with their ticketing, check-in and reconfirmation requirements;
- Your flight is canceled;
- The airline switches to a smaller plane for safety or operational reasons;
- The plane has 60 or fewer seats and there are safety-related weight/balance restrictions; or
- You’re offered a seat in a section of the plane that’s different from your original ticket. But you’re entitled to a partial refund if you’re demoted from 1st class to a lower class.
You’re also not entitled to denied boarding compensation if the airline gets you to your next stopover or final destination within 1 hour of your original arrival time.
-See 14 C.F.R. § 250.6
So, that brings us to the big question, if you’re involuntarily denied boarding, how much compensation are you entitled to?
How much can you get in denied boarding compensation?
I’ll tell you right now that if your goal was to get the most amount of money from the airline, then you missed your chance earlier when the airline was asking for volunteers. That’s the time to negotiate with the airline for maximum reward to you.
But since you’re now being involuntarily denied boarding, and no longer a volunteer, you’re not entitled to more compensation than the law requires the airline to pay you.
For Domestic Flights, the law requires the airline to pay you Denied Boarding Compensation of:
- 200% of the value of the one-way fare to your destination (up to a maximum of $775.00) if the delay is more than 1 hour but less than 2 hours; or
- 400% of the value of the one-way fare to your destination (up to a maximum of $1,550) if the delay is more than 2 hours.
For International Flights, the law requires the airline to pay you Denied Boarding Compensation of:
- 200% of the value of the one-way fare to your destination (up to a maximum of $775.00) if the delay is more than 1 hour but less than 4 hours; or
- 400% of the value of the one-way fare to your destination (up to a maximum of $1,550) if the delay is more than 4 hours.
-See 14 C.F.R. § 250.5
Sounds like pretty good money, but how long do you have to wait for your money?
How fast are the payments?
It’s one thing to tell you that the airline has to pay you money but that might be of little consolation if it takes forever to get paid.
Here’s the great news!
If you’re involuntarily denied boarding, the airline is required to pay the denied boarding compensation by cash or check for the amount required by law on the day and at the place the involuntary denied boarding occurs. However, if the airline arranges alternate transportation for your convenience that departs before the payment is able to be made, then the airline is required to send you the payment within 24 hours.
-See 14 C.F.R. § 250.8
There you have it! If you’re preparing to travel don’t forget to check in early to avoid being the first one involuntarily denied boarding, but don’t be shy about volunteering to get bumped if the price is right.
Also, if you want to know more about your preferred airline’s Denied Boarding Compensation policies, we’ve linked the top 3 here:
–Authored by Matthew L. Harris, Esq.,
Matthew Harris Law, PLLC – Civil Litigation Division
1101 Broadway, Lubbock, Texas, 79401-3303
Tel: (806) 702-4852 | Fax: (800) 985-9479