We all watched in collective horror last April when poor Dr. David Dao was dragged kicking and screaming — literally — off a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville. In case you forgot, the good doctor was told the flight was overbooked, and because nobody had volunteered to take a later flight, he was forced to give his up his seat involuntarily. Which, as it turns out, is completely legal.
Maybe dragging them out like an unruly Eagles fan isn’t okay, but bumping paid passengers from their scheduled flights is actually not a breach of contract. That’s because, in the terms and conditions you blindly agreed to when booking that sick $49 one-way to Vegas, you agreed to give up your seat if the airline told you to. If they rebook you on something that gets you to your destination within an hour of your scheduled time, you get nothing. Good day, sir.
However, if you have to wait longer, the airlines are required by law to compensate you. For a bump that gets you to your destination one to two hours later than scheduled for a domestic flight (or two to four hours for international trips), the airline owes you up to 200 percent of your ticket price up to $600, plus a full refund. More than that and they owe you 400 percent, up to $1,300, and a refund.
That’s the maximum. And legally, it’s what you’re entitled to. But in any good negotiation, nobody leads with the most they’re willing to give, so airlines don’t always offer you as much as they have to. That’s because, one, most people don’t know how much they’re entitled to and, two, airlines offer less money, cash in hand. Most people will choose that over going through a burdensome claim process to get the maximum.
Though bumping is rare, it happens to nearly every airline. And some give out more money than others. Our friends at Stratos Jets Air Charters looked at all the cases of passengers getting bumped from January 2016 to December 2017. They found who offered the most cash and who were the biggest cheapskates among the 12 most-boarded airlines in America.
Customer-service darling Alaska Airlines led the pack, giving its bumped passengers $1,222 per occasion, with only 2.9 instances per 10,000 passengers. Southwest, with its cult-like following, offered $555 per bump, with 6.1 per 10,000. Frontier Airlines, which isn’t exactly swimming in good word-of-mouth anyway, offered the least at $221. Hawaiian Airlines was second to last with $311, because, hey, when is spending more time in Hawaii ever a bad thing?
Hawaiian also tied with Delta for fewest bumped passengers per 10,000 with only 0.6. ExpressJet had the most at 7.9. Here are the rest of the numbers, ranked by average payout, and listing the number of occurrences per 10,000:
- Alaska Airlines — $1,222 (2.9)
- Virgin America — $968 (1.6)
- Delta — $816 (0.6)
- ExpressJet — $741 (7.9)
- SkyWest — $610 (5.2)
- JetBlue -– $570 (5.3)
- American — $562 (4.1)
- Southwest — $555 (6.1)
- United — $544 (2.7)
- Spirit — $358 (6.5)
- Hawaiian — $311 (0.6)
- Frontier — $221 (4.6)
These are just averages, and if you push the airlines you can get the legally-mandated maximum. It’s just up to you how much work you’re willing to put in. These figures are also reflective of ticket prices, since the compensation for a cheap ticket on an airline like Frontier will be less than an expensive one on Virgin.
Hopefully you never get bumped, and this isn’t something you’ll ever need to be concerned with. But at least this will give you an idea of how much your airline is willing to pay.