Few air travelers know that there are rules governing oversales, so it isn’t uncommon to see passengers simply walk away when they’re bumped, without asking for any compensation. Not to get too technical, but finding the rule is fairly easy. A quick search for the latest version of the Code of Federal Regulations under “involuntary denied boarding” reveals chapter and verse (
14 CFR § 250.8
The rule as written could be interpreted two ways — as meaning either that all planes with fewer than 60 seats are completely exempt from the bumping law, or that the only time these smaller jets are not bound by the regulation is if the number of passengers affects the aircraft’s safe operation. The DOT says that the law is unambiguous and as written completely exempts only planes with 30 or fewer seats. Put differently, an airline can’t count on the 60-seat rule to get out of the denied-boardings rule.
Still, it’s possible for an airline to cite the 60-seat regulation, and unless it’s dealing with a passenger like Posch, or unless a passenger files a complaint with the DOT, it could save a few hundred dollars. That may be one of the reasons regional carriers such as Skywest Airlines, ExpressJet Airlines and Mesa Airlines scored even worse than United in the DOT report. Those airlines racked up a rate of 2.3, 2.45 and 2.5 bumpings per 10,000 passengers, respectively. Maybe part of the reason they bumped so many is that they could.
The fix? Airlines are currently required to give bumped passengers a written synopsis of the law. But why not offer the entire rule — not just a summary — before turning people away?
I shared the correspondence between Posch and United with the DOT. Bill Mosley, a department spokesman, said it appeared that the Posches were eligible for compensation. “If that’s the case, each of them would be entitled to a check for 400 percent of their one-way fare from Washington to Cleveland, with a maximum of $1,300 per person,” he told me.
I also forwarded the Posch file to United and asked it to review its response to him. It re-examined his case and lawsuit. “After reviewing Mr. Posch’s circumstances, we determined that he was, in fact, entitled to compensation,” United spokesman Charles Hobart said. “We are honoring his claim.”
Posch is happy with that , and so am I. But I wonder how many other passengers have been turned down like this? And in the coming winter travel season, how many more will be?
Elliott is National Geographic Traveler magazine’s reader advocate. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.