It seems that every week, multiple times a week, I see another news story about an upset family or individual that was pulled off a flight. It may be that these events are increasing in frequency. It may be that people are more likely to share their stories in hopes of sparking enough social outrage that the airline feels it must change its practices. Either way, getting kicked off flights has become commonplace in our society. So, what should you do when you’re being kicked off your flight?
If the flight was overbooked:
- Pay attention to whether the airline ask for volunteers. The airline cannot involuntarily remove passengers from a flight unless it has asked passengers to voluntarily give up their seats.
- Don’t give up your seat until you know all the facts: When is the next flight to your destination? Will the airport provide you a hotel or transportation if you’re going be delayed overnight? Once you give that seat up, you aren’t getting it back, so make certain you have a plan.
- Voluntarily giving up your seat is a new deal: Passengers who are involuntarily kicked off flights are legally entitled to compensation, but if a passenger voluntarily gives up his/her seat, the compensation the passenger agreed to accept from the airline is all he/she gets. Think of it like a game show. The longer a passenger holds out the better the prize, but at any time another passenger can swoop in and steal the deal.
- If you’re involuntarily removed, the airline must say why: The airline is required to give passengers a written statement explaining why the passenger was involuntarily bumped off the flight AND explaining the passenger’s rights.
- If you’re involuntarily removed, you don’t have to accept vouchers: A passenger can request a check in-hand before leaving the airport. Remember that if a passenger accepts a voucher to voluntarily give up a seat, he/she can’t later demand a check.
- If you’re involuntarily removed, the airline must arrange for you to receive alternate transportation and the amount of compensation you’re entitled to varies depending on when you will arrive at your destination:
|New Arrival Time||Compensation|
|Within 1 Hour of Original Arrival Time||No Compensation|
|Within 1-2 Hours of Original Arrival Time||200% of one-way fare (capped at $675)|
|More than 2 Hours After Original Arrival Time||400% of one-way fare (capped at $1,350)|
- These rules only apply to over booking: If your flight is delayed/cancelled or if you are removed from your flight for any reason other than overbooking by the airline, these rules don’t apply.
- Visit the Department of Transportation webpage: The US DOT has useful information regarding the rights of airline passengers. https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/flights-and-rights
- Stay humble: It’s complicated. There are many rules and those rules have many exceptions. The airline may be in the wrong, but remaining polite with the crew and other staff increases the likelihood of a positive result.
If you’re being removed for another reason:
Check your contract of carriage: When passengers purchase a ticket,they enter into a contract with the airline. Often it is this written agreement, called a contract of carriage, that governs a passenger’s rights with the airline. These contracts are often very long and passengers almost never read them in advance. But if a situation arises, look at the contract of carriage and see what you agreed to with the airline.
As a general rule, airlines have broad rules that allow them to deny a passenger passage for many reasons. If the airline crew determines that a passenger’s conduct is disorderly, abusive, or violent, or that the passenger creates an unreasonable risk or annoyance to other people on the plane, the passenger can be removed from the flight. Contracts of carriage usually disallow passengers that are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs and even barefoot passengers as well.
Passengers are generally prohibited from engaging in conduct that would prevent the airline from refusing transportation. In other words, if a passenger is told by the airline that passenger is being denied transport, the passenger should comply. If the airline is in the wrong, the passenger has recourse, including the right to sue the airline for breach of contract.
John Litzler directs the Church Law division of Christian Unity Ministries in San Antonio. He is a graduate of the University of Texas and Baylor Law school. He is a member of the SSHS class of 2004.