If you travel with any frequency, for business or pleasure, you’ve been delayed and often asked to stay behind because the airline has overbooked the flight. Most of the time we are all too exhausted to take up the airline’s offer to be booked on a later flight. Who wants to wait around a noisy, crowded airport? It’s not like the airline is offering to send you back to the four-star hotel you just came from in downtown Rome. However, you do have rights and if you are prepared you stand a better chance of succeeding.
The moment you purchased your ticket, you entered into a binding contract with the airline. Rest assured that if you try to change or cancel a non-refundable ticket, the airline will definitely hold you to that contract. The airlines are governed by the feds and as such, they must operate under certain parameters which they don’t often reveal to their frequent fliers. According to government figures, more than 63,ooo people were bumped from their flights last year and I guarantee you that many of them didn’t know their rights and accepted the meal voucher for airport food and a coupon for $100-200 as just recompense for their inconvenience. That is laughable considering what the actual regulations provide in such circumstances: if you are rescheduled within one or 2 hours of your original arrival time, the airline must pay you in cash the equivalent of a one-way ticket up to $400. If it takes any longer than that, the maximum doubles to $800. That’s quite a difference from the food court coupon and a $200 travel voucher, isn’t it, especially when the one-way ticket is often much more money than the original cost of your round-trip fare? On the other hand, the feds don’t require the airlines to refund your ticket, or feed or house you, so be prepared to eat a Snickers bar and sleep on a bench full of armchairs, or worse yet – the dirty floor.
Whatever you do, avoid the travel vouchers – they’re about as useful these days as trying to redeem your frequent flyer miles for free flights, unless you’re trying to book a 3am flight to OshKosh, Wisconsin and don’t mind making four stops along the away. By the way, if you want to test my thoughts here – try flying through O’Hare at rush hour – you’re bound to be bumped or asked politely to volunteer. Safe travels.