Your rights if you’re bumped from an overbooked flight - and how to avoid it

Did you know that airlines did this? (Photo: Shutterstock)Did you know that airlines did this? (Photo: Shutterstock)
Did you know that airlines did this? (Photo: Shutterstock)

Following reports that Easyjet selected a three-year-old child to be “involuntarily offloaded” from a flight, do you know your rights regarding your seat on an overbooked plane?

Be sure not to get caught out on your next holiday with this troublesome travelling situation.

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Why do planes overbook?

There’s a number of reasons that planes oversell seats on a flight - it’s a completely legal practice undertaken by many airlines.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) explains: “Sometimes airlines book more people onto a flight than there are seats on the plane. This is because people don’t always turn up — despite having booked a flight.”

“Airlines may also be unable to carry all passengers for other reasons, such as using a smaller aircraft than planned.”

This results in situations where too many people will try to check in for the same flight.

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“As a result, some passengers may be asked or forced to give up their place on the flight,” the CAA states.

How to avoid being offloaded

If you want to minimise your chances of being bumped off a flight, there are some precautions you can take.

Firstly, try to avoid booking tickets on what will be a popular flight.

For example, school holidays, Fridays, Sunday afternoon/evenings and Monday mornings are times that are likely to be popular amongst travellers and therefore more likely to be overbooked.

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Once you’ve booked your tickets, check in as early as possible. Some airlines will choose the last people to check in online for their flight to be offloaded from an overbooked flight.

Am I entitled to anything if I am offloaded?

Airlines want this process to be as smooth as possible, so will firstly look for volunteers who are flexible with their travel plans to free up their seat.

If you volunteer to be bumped, it’s between you and the airline to come to an agreement regarding compensation.

Usually during the announcement asking for volunteers, the airline will mention what compensation could be on offer, like money or vouchers.

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The CAA says: “If you volunteer to be bumped, you are also entitled to an alternative flight or a refund.”

Things are slightly different if it wasn’t your choice.

Involuntary offloading

“If you are bumped without your agreement, you are entitled to compensation, as long as you checked-in for your flight on time,” the CAA explains.

Depending on the length of your flight and the timings of the alternative flight you’re offered, the level of compensation can differ.

For short haul flights less than 1,500km:

If the delay is less than two hours, you can claim £112If it’s more than two hours, you can claim £224

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For medium length flights that cover a distance between 1,500km and 3,500km (or flights within the EU of more than 1,500km):

If the delay is less than three hours, you can claim £179If it’s more than three hours, you can claim £358

For long-haul flights more than 3,500km:

If the delay is less than four hours, you can claim £268If the delay is more, you can claim £537

Claiming compensation

These are the two main circumstances in which you are legally entitled to payment:

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Reimbursement for care and assistance. If you’ve paid for food, drink or accommodation the airline should have provided when you were bumped, you can claim reasonable costs back.Compensation for disruption. If the delay was severe and could have been avoided, you’re entitled to compensation.

If you think you have a case, you should contact your airline directly.

Different airlines will have a claims procedure to follow, like an online compensation form.

In the off chance that the airline you’re dealing with does not have a standard procedure available, you should make initial contact via email, or by sending a letter.

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Your rights

The CAA states that no matter whether you volunteer to give up your seat or are involuntarily bumped, there are two options the airline must offer you.

Firstly, they must offer you an alternative flight - you can’t just be left stranded in your location.

It’s up to you whether you want to fly out as soon as possible, or at a later date if that suits you better. Airlines generally refer to this as being ‘rerouted’.

If you’re keen to get on your way as quickly as possible, the airline must also provide care and assistance while you wait.

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“This means food, drink, communications and accommodation, if you stay overnight,” the CAA says.

If you don’t want to fly at all, you should be given a refund instead.

The CAA says: “You’ll get a refund for all parts of the ticket you haven’t used.”

“For instance, if you have booked a return flight and you are bumped from the outbound leg, you can get the full cost of the return ticket back from your airline.”

This article originally appeared on our sister site Edinburgh Evening News