What he found led him to file a lawsuit in a Virginia district court last month and also underscores that passenger rights are never a sure thing — even when it comes to something as seemingly certain as involuntarily denied boarding compensation.
On Aug. 10, Posch, his 8-year-old daughter and his 7-year-old son were told that they couldn’t travel from Reagan National Airport to Cleveland because their flight was overbooked, he says. Since the next available flight didn’t leave for another day, Posch canceled the trip. The online travel agency he’d used refunded his ticket, and after he complained in writing, the airline offered him three flight vouchers worth $300 each.
Posch believes that federal regulations require United to pay more. United says he’s misreading the rule: The involuntary denied boarding rules include an exemption for aircraft with fewer than 60 seats, and since his flight was on a 50-seat regional jet, the airline didn’t have to give him anything.
But Posch argues that the 60-seat standard applies only when extra passengers would interfere with the aircraft’s safety, and specifically if the combined weight of him and his children had unbalanced the aircraft or kept it from operating safely.
Fortunately, involuntary denied boardings — or being “bumped” from a flight — are relatively rare. Airlines record each incident and must share it with the Transportation Department. The DOT then publicly reports the number.
Among the major carriers, United had the most involuntary denied boardings from July to September, the last months for which figures are available. It bumped 4,014 passengers, for 1.9 bumpings per 10,000 passengers. By contrast, JetBlue, with the fewest denied boardings, showed just 10 passengers the door.
Denied boardings come with the territory when you’re flying on a legacy airline. But the least you can expect is that the government will protect you when you’re bumped. In 2011, after briefly considering the idea of banning overbooking, the DOT raised the airline penalties for denied boardings, instituting a sliding scale for compensation based on the length of delay and the cost of the ticket. Before then, a passenger like Posch would have received up to $800 for being turned away from his flight.
The circumstances of Posch’s trip were frustrating, if nothing else. He and his kids arrived at Reagan National more than an hour before their scheduled departure. Their boarding passes bore a notice asking whether they’d consider volunteering for the next flight because theirs had been oversold. Posch wasn’t interested, and as the departure time drew near, no one else volunteered for the next flight either, he says.