There is nothing worse than arriving at your gate, passport in hand, luggage all checked-in, beach bag slung over your shoulder, sun sand and fun mere hours away and then, a few ominous words tear you from your cocktail-infused daydream: “Would Mr. Joe please come to the front desk?” You gather your things and saunter up to the desk, all the while secretly hoping you’re about to get a surprise upgrade to Premium Economy when you’re about to get hit with the “you-thought-you-were-getting -to-Maui-tonight-but-guess-again” schpeel. The airline staff gives you an apologetic look and utters the words: “You’re being bumped.”
In the last month, a number of stories have made their way around social media about this surprisingly common occurrence. The first was a young woman who purchased a ticket on Air Canada from Toronto to Vancouver and was unceremoniously put on stand-by. Her flight was overbooked, though she was eventually given a seat after boarding had completed. A Toronto couple flying to Miami to enjoy some time in the Florida Keys were not as fortunate. While they did receive a couple of meal vouchers and some cash compensation, they had to fork out for extras like last minute hotel reservations, and they lost an entire day of travel out of their short four-day trip. More recently (and disturbingly), United Airlines allowed one of their planes to be boarded, then realized it was overbooked and asked four passengers to deplane, quite forcibly removing one of them, causing one heck of a social media storm. The truth is, there is no foolproof way to ensure this never happens to you, however, there are are a few things you can do to decrease the chances of being bumped:
Try to Avoid Travel During Peak Times
If you have some flexibility with your departure and arrival time, try opting for flights that fall in off-peak hours, weekdays, and outside of holidays. For example, if you can fly out to Toronto on a mid-morning Wednesday or Thursday flight, your chances of being bumped decrease – These are not the most popular times of day, and the flights are often less full.
Pay for Seat Selection
Airlines like Air Canada clearly state that if a passenger does not pay for their seat in advance, they are assigned one at the airport (based on availability). There’s your clue – Based on availability. That means, if you check-in late (or don’t check-in ahead of time at all), even though you have paid for a ticket if you don’t have a specific seat number assigned, you will either be assigned one at the airport or possibly put on the bump list. I always tell my clients to factor in an extra $15-30 per segment when pricing out their flights so they have confirmed seats.
Always Check-in Early
Most airlines allow you to check-in for your flight 24 hours in advance, there’s a reason for this. In some cases, it means you get to zip through the baggage drop-off line instead of waiting in line with everyone else. But more importantly, it gives you the opportunity to snag a seat (most often for a price), giving the airline one less opportunity to bump you from your flight. As a courtesy and convenience, I provide check-in service for any client who gives me their passport details in advance.
Purchase Travel Insurance
Buying travel insurance won’t prevent you from being bumped, however, it will help mitigate the costs if it does happen. Even though airlines are required to provide you with some form of compensation (ie. Meal or flight voucher), that isn’t enough to cover the other out-of-pocket expenses you have like overnighting unexpectedly in a hotel, or any cancellation costs you incur from having to cancel or change travel plans at your first point of arrival.
What Happens if I DO Get Bumped?
For those of you who don’t do any of the above, there are a couple of things you need to know if you’re being bumped:
Don’t Freak Out
Seriously, this may seem like common sense, but I’ve seen it a hundred times. Losing one’s cool at airline ground staff will not win you any friends or favours. Take a deep breath, and work through the issue with the groundstaff. Remember, they’re just doing their job.
Ask for Cash Compensation
Flight vouchers may seem like a fair solution, but they often come with blackout dates and restrictions. If it’s an option, ask for cash compensation so you can spend that money the most convenient way for you. That may be re-booking on a different airline or paying for a nicer airport hotel while you wait for your next flight.
Ask for Transportation, Hotel and Food Vouchers
Different airlines have different policies, but generally, if you’re forced to wait more than 12 hours, you are entitled to compensation. Be polite, calm, but firm – You are the paying customer, and you should be compensated for the inconvenience. If the airline doesn’t want to cooperate – This is where your travel insurance comes in handy. Read through your policy before you travel so you know how much you have to spend on accommodation and incidentals when things and if things go wrong.
Always Confirm Your Next Flight Out
Being bumped does not mean you’re automatically confirmed on the next flight. Make sure you have a boarding pass or confirmed itinerary in hand before you do anything. And If you’re not getting anywhere with ground staff, call your travel consultant and see if they can use their back channels to get you re-confirmed.