You’ve been bumped: Agency looks to change airline overbooking compensation

Four words every business or vacation travelers dread: You've been bumped. And it seems to happen more and more as airlines overbook and pack the tin as full as they can. The Department of Transportation is trying to change the system and today announced five proposals that at least increase compensation for travelers who have been bumped:

* Increase the $200 current compensation limit to $624 and the $400 limit to $1,248;

* Increase the compensation limits to $290 and $580, respectively;

* Double the compensation limits to $400 and $800;

* Eliminate all compensation limits and making compensation equal to the value of the ticket with the payment doubling for longer delays;

* Leave the current limits in place.

The Department's notice also asked for comment on other possible changes to the bumping rule, such as extending the rule to aircraft having 30 to 60 seats, which are not currently covered, and clarifying the criteria airlines may use in deciding the order in which passengers will be bumped. The proposal doesn't really address the fact that bumping is on the rise. Travelers that have been involuntarily bumped have almost doubled since 2002, according to the DOT. According to the DOT during the first three month of 2007, over 2,000 more travelers were involuntarily bumped over the same period in 2006. According to DOT statistics, you are most likely to be bumped on Atlantic Southwest, Delta, Comair, Skywest, Mesa and Continental and least likely on JetBlue, Aloha, Air Tran and United. As noted in Buzzblog, the New York Times recently ran an inside look at why and how the airlines decide to overbook their flights. Included are a pair of informative charts, this one that shows bumping to be on the rise in recent years and this one that shows the balance-sheet math involved for a trio of real-life flights. The DOT says bumping rules were first adopted in 1962 to balance the rights of passengers with the needs of air carriers to minimize the effect of passengers with reservations who do not take their flight. If a flight is oversold, the airline must first seek volunteers who are willing to give up their seats in return for compensation offered by the airline. The airline may bump passengers involuntarily if not enough of them volunteer, and these passengers are eligible for cash compensation in most circumstances. The rule applies to passengers bumped from an oversold flight that departs without them, not to those affected by delayed or canceled flights. The DOT says under the current rule, if the airline can arrange alternate transportation scheduled to arrive at the passenger's destination within two hours of the planned arrival time of the oversold flight - or four hours on international flights - the compensation is the amount of the fare to the passenger's destination with a $200 maximum. If the airline cannot meet these deadlines, the amount of compensation doubles, with a $400 maximum. These payments are in addition to the value of the passenger's ticket, which the passenger can use for alternate transportation or have refunded if not used. There are occasions when airlines are not required to pay compensation, for example, where the passenger is provided alternate transportation scheduled to arrive at the passenger's destination within one hour of the planned arrival time of the oversold flight. The DOT wants to hear from the traveling public. The DOT wants to hear from the traveling public. Go here to log a comment.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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