Flight overbooking is a common practice for many airlines. While some shy away from the policy, others overbook in order to compensate for no-shows at the gate. Would you volunteer to get bumped?
If a flight is overbooked, standard practice is to ask for volunteers to be bumped off the flight. Volunteers must be offered compensation and assistance in line with the Denied Boarding Regulations. Some airlines even offer generous benefits too, depending on your circumstances.
It all sounds like a nightmare to me. I’ve been a lone traveller on a number of occasions, so I’m prime candidate for bumping. However, I find the flying experience is stressful enough without waiting even longer in the frenzy of some faraway airport.
Bumped flight benefits
My colleague Chris begs to differ. After discovering the system on an overbooked transatlantic flight, he’s first in the queue as a volunteer ever since, regardless of whether there is any hint of overbooking.
And it’s paid-off, too. Chris’s short transatlantic delay (he was booked onto the next flight) was spent eating complimentary muffins in the airline’s business lounge, and gained him an upgrade to business class, and $800 in flight vouchers.
He’s since been put up in a flashy hotel in Vancouver, relishing the extended holiday with free drinks and meal vouchers, and using the $500 of flight vouchers to fly back to Canada the following summer.
A word from the airlines
A brief ring around airlines revealed differences in policy.
Short-haul carrier Ryanair does not overbook flights at all, whereas Easyjet overbook by around 1%, offering compensation in line with the Denied Boarding Regs when necessary. Easyjet told us that around 5% of passengers are no-shows, so it is very rare to get bumped.
When a long-haul Virgin flight is overbooked, volunteers are given compensation and the mysteriously termed ‘generous benefits’, dependent on the circumstance. Should no volunteers be found, the last to the gate will be denied boarding, and offered compensation but no benefits.
Your rights and the rules
Getting ‘bumped’ (or volunteering) is a fantastic option for some, and is relatively unknown. But is it worth it?
As a backpacker, Chris is used to being flexible and is prepared to delay his holiday or extend his stay if necessary. For me, I’m generally just too stressed to delay myself, and when I know I’m going home I’d rather just get it over with, even if the alternative is a plush hotel. Flight vouchers are tempting, but not so useful if you don’t want to holiday alone.
If there are no volunteers on an overbooked flight, it’s likely that the last people to arrive at the gate will be denied boarding. Not ideal for many, but you’ll have the same entitlement to assistance and compensation as if your flight was cancelled.
It’s a lottery win for the loan backpacker, but likely a no-go for the nervous flyer or business traveller. Would you go there? Or have you already?