Commercial airlines apparently are stretching federal aviation laws that prevent passengers from collecting compensation when they are bumped from an overbooked flight, according to a consumer activist group.

The Aviation Consumer Action Project [ACAP], in a petition to the civil Aeronautics Board [CAB], says that airlines are avoiding paying compensation to passengers involuntarily bumped from their flight by placing them in what the airlines are calling "extra sections" of the same flight, even though these "extra sections" often leave several hours after the original flight.

Normally, a passenger involuntarily bumped from an overbooked flight is entitled to receive up to a miximum of $200, paid on the spot [based on 100 percent of the sum of the values of the remaining one-way flight coupons to the next stopover]. The amount doubles if the airline does not place the passenger on a flight leaving within two hours after the original flight.

As a result of the ACAP's petition, the CAB is proposing a modification to the overbooking rule that would reduce the time interval for a flight to qualify as an "extra section." Flights that did not depart within an hour would not qualify and passengers on those flights would be entitled to some monetary compensation.

Interested persons may comment on the proposed change by writing, before July 7, to the CAB, Docket Section, Docket 36294, Washington, D. C. 20428.