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Bumped from a Flight? Here’s How Much Compensation You Get!

If you follow twitter or any other news outlet for that matter, you may have noticed a lot of coverage on the topic of being bumped from a flight.  A few weeks ago, United Airlines took bumping to a whole new level when they aggressively removed a passenger that was chosen to be bumped.  The passenger (who is also a physician) was already seated in the aircraft and refused to leave.  In the end, United decided that moving their staff was more important than the passenger which resulted in the passenger being dragged off the aircraft kicking and screaming.

While most stories about being bumped from a flight aren’t quite that dramatic, it likely happens more than what is reported by media.  At least up until now (10 year old bumped from Air Canada flight).  It’s fairly normal procedure for an airline to slightly overbook flights on their larger planes b/c of the high probability of passengers not showing up.  If the flight is at capacity, I often hear the gate announcement asking for passengers to volunteer their seats.  I assume that if there are no volunteers at that point, the airline will essentially pick who gets bumped.

Fortunately, I’ve never been bumped from a flight, but the recent news has made me think, what if…? What would the airline offer in terms of compensation if I was bumped from a flight?  How much would be fair compensation for interrupting my travel plans?

With that, I did some digging into some of the practices of the two main airlines in Canada – Air Canada and Westjet.

For all Airlines Travelling from a US Destination

If you are bumped traveling from a US destination which results in:

  • Up to a 2-hour delay, you can receive up to 2x the one-way fare up to a maximum of $650.
  • If the delay is longer than 2 hours, you are entitled to 4x the one-way fare up to a maximum of $1,300.  This policy is mandated and enforced by the U.S Department of Transportation.

For Domestic Flights

While the Canadian Transportation Agency leaves compensation policies up to the airlines, in 2013, Air Canada updated their bumping compensation policy due to a customer complaint.  Now, Air Canada passengers can get:

  • $200 for up to 2hr delay;
  • $400 for a delay of 2 to 6 hrs;
  • $800 for a delay of 6+ hrs.
  • Air Canada can offer a one-year travel voucher for up to 3x the above amounts. (source)

WestJet compensation is a bit more challenging to lock down as they claim that they do not overbook flights but can possibly be “oversold”.  They offer compensation that is “acceptable” to the passenger (source).

To me, I like the idea of getting a 3x travel voucher for future use.  Imagine getting bumped with a delay of 6 hrs and getting a travel credit for $2,400?  I guess it depends on the situation, but if you had some slack in your travel plans, it seems like a fair trade-off to me.

Preventing the Bump

The ideal situation, of course, is to do what you can to prevent being on the bump list.  From the articles that I have read, here’s how you can minimize the chances of being bumped:

  • Travel first class (or have status like Super Elite);
  • Purchase a fare higher than the lowest fare (ie. Flex instead of Tango on Air Canada)
  • Purchase a selected seat;
  • Check in online as soon as possible;
  • Show up to the airport early.

The whole concept of bumping customers who have paid in full does not make a lot of sense to me.  But there could be some good news on the horizon where the current government promises an updated passenger rights regime this year (2017).

Have you ever been bumped from a flight?  What compensation were you offered?

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FT About the author: FT is the founder and editor of Million Dollar Journey (est. 2006). Through various financial strategies outlined on this site, he grew his net worth from $200,000 in 2006 to $1,000,000 by 2014. You can read more about him here.

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Betty Therriault April 24, 2017, 12:29 pm

    What happens in the case of a flight delay. Last Christmas my half-hour flight was delayed for 6 hrs. Passengers as a group finally received $10 food vouchers at the time. I later wrote a letter to the air line and received a $150.00 voucher.

    • FT FT April 24, 2017, 4:00 pm

      Hi Betty,

      This article does a great job of summarizing flight delay compensation: http://globalnews.ca/news/2090831/flight-delays-what-are-your-rights-as-a-passenger/

      West Jet:

      If your WestJet flight is delayed within Canada, you are entitled to:

      A meal voucher if the delay is three or more hours.
      Meal and hotel vouchers, plus airport transfers if the delay is eight or more hours and you’re not in your home city.
      Drinks and snacks (when possible) if you’re already on the plane and the delay occurs; Option to disembark if the delay exceeds 90 minutes. Different rules apply if you’re on a tarmack in the U.S.
      Air Canada:

      If your Air Canada flight is delayed, you are entitled to:

      Change your reservation at no cost to another date within the next week (subject to availability) if your delay is two hours or more. You can also change your return flight for free at this point.
      A meal voucher if the delay is four hours or more and the delay is caused by circumstances within Air Canada’s control (i.e. not weather).
      Meal vouchers, transportation to and from the airport as well as hotel accommodation if your delay is eight hours or more. However, this only applies for delays within Air Canada’s control. For those outside Air Canada’s control, you will be provided “with hotel contact information where you can obtain valued customer rates.”

      Otherwise, you may be able to take advantage of a credit card flight delay insurance (if you have it).

  • nobleea April 24, 2017, 12:58 pm

    My tolerance for being bumped has dropped substantially since having kids. We pick out flight routing based on what would be easiest for the kids and least stressful for us. And being tall, we’ve started prebooking the seats to make sure we are in a decent location and not in the last row (as inevitably happens).

    Booking on points is fine, but don’t do it for flights over holidays or peak travel times. This is the most likely time to be bumped (especially Christmas when the weather is bad). If you are wanting to travel on points, there is something to be said for applying for a bunch of aeroplan credit cards to get the bonus sign up points. Many of these bonus points are status points and it’s easy to get status on Air Canada this way. Having status, even if its a lower level, puts you up one notch over getting bumped, even if its when flying on points.
    I have never heard of someone getting bumped from a WJ flight.

    • FT FT April 24, 2017, 4:03 pm

      Thanks for the tips Nobleea. Have you ever been bumped?

      • nobleea April 25, 2017, 12:12 pm

        We travel a fair amount but have never been bumped. We’ve taken them up on their offer of volunteers a couple times (before kids) for the compensation. Missed out on a $2K offer per person once because we had checked bags. I’ve been on a list for bumping (ie no seat assigned and had to wait until everyone was boarded to get a seat assignment), but got on.

  • Passivecanadianincome April 25, 2017, 8:15 pm

    Intresting post. As good as some of deals sound if I booked a cruise and missed the boat because of the delay that would cost me alot more. The story with united Airlines is insane crazy how they pick their employees over their customers. If I was traveling for work tho, sweet! I’ll take the $$$ haha

  • Chungsoon April 26, 2017, 6:21 pm

    If only we are like the Europeans, who have a law stating compensation. (600 euros if the distance and delay surpasses a set criteria). This happened to me on the way back from London which almost paid for my whole trip.

    That said, the airline did not mention what our rights were and most people did not do anything. It also took going public before they responded to my request.

  • Leo T. Ly @ isaved5k.com April 29, 2017, 12:27 am

    I’ve never been bumped from a flight before. However, a few years ago, I was on a business trip going to NY, Porter overbooked the flight and ask if there is any volunteer. I did and they only offer me a $150 voucher to use withing six months. Too bad I never claimed the voucher as I did not travel again within six months of my business trip. That was the only experience I had with airlines bumping me off a flight.

  • Barbara April 30, 2017, 4:00 am

    WestJet kicks passengers off its flights if they overload.
    I was on one of their flights to Mexico where, after everyone was seated, they ordered 15 people to voluntarily leave or “no one is going anywhere today”. Those leaving were told they would go on a flight the next day.

    The rest of us sat on that runway for a full 3 hours without any apology whatsoever. I wrote them and they offered nothing. Needless to say, after 3 more westjet disasters I never fly with them.

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