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By The Way
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What to know if an airline wants to bump you from a flight

Overbooking leads some airlines to offer thousands of dollars to volunteers who are willing to reschedule

(iStock/Washington Post Illustration)

It’s a story that has become more common at airports: After you show up, get through security and walk to your assigned gate, you hear an announcement that the airline is looking for volunteers to give up their seats. If you’re unlucky, you find out you’re getting “bumped” from the flight because the airline overbooked.

Airlines beset by labor shortages have struggled to keep up with summer travel demand, leading to an unusually high number of cancellations, delays and disappearing luggage. More people are also getting bumped: According to a consumer report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the rate of passengers who were involuntarily denied boarding in the first quarter of 2022 was 0.44 per 10,000 passengers, which is more than five times greater than the 2021 figure (0.08) and bigger than the pre-pandemic rate of 0.32 in the same period of 2019.

Flexible travelers can use these situations to their advantage. Passengers on a Delta Air Lines flight from Michigan to Minnesota reported the carrier was offering $10,000 for them to rebook. A few weeks ago, a woman on a flight from New York to Florida said she accepted a $3,000 offer from Delta to get off the plane.

If you were counting on getting to your destination on time, the bumping experience can be frustrating and confusing. Because the situation can be inevitable, we asked experts to explain why airlines ask passengers to sit out flights and what to do if it happens to you.

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