If your airline is unable to find a seat on a flight you have booked, you may be entitled to assistance and compensation
Sometimes airlines book more people onto a flight than there are seats on the plane. This is because people don’t always turn up — despite having booked a flight. Airlines may also be unable to carry all passengers for other reasons, such as using a smaller aircraft than planned.
This means that occasionally too many people will attempt to check in for a flight. As a result, some passengers may be asked or forced to give up their place on the flight.
If this happens to you, it means you have been ‘bumped’ from your flight. It is also called ‘denied boarding’. Often you can volunteer to be bumped, but sometimes airlines will bump you without your agreement.
Under EU law, you have certain rights if you are bumped from a flight. To be covered by these rules, your flight must be either:
(Under this law, EU airports also include those in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.)
If you volunteer to be bumped, it’s up to you and your airline to agree compensation. Often, airlines will make an announcement at the gate offering compensation, which might be cash or vouchers.
If you volunteer to be bumped, you are also entitled to an alternative flight or a refund, as described below.
If you are bumped without your agreement, you are entitled to compensation, as long as you checked-in for your flight on time.
The level of compensation depends on the length of your flight and the timings of the alternative flight you are offered:
You are entitled to a cash payment, usually this will be paid by cheque or bank transfer. Some airlines may also offer you an alternative such as travel vouchers or free travel services. You are free to choose which suits you best and can insist on a chase payment if you wish.
No matter whether you volunteered or were forced to be bumped, your airline must also let you choose between two options:
1. Choose an alternative flight
Your airline must offer you an alternative flight. It’s up to you whether to fly as soon as possible, or at a later date that suits you. Airlines often refer to this as being ‘rerouted’.
If you want to fly as soon as possible, your airline must also provide care and assistance while you wait for the flight. This means food, drink, communications and accommodation, if you stay overnight.
If you don’t want to fly, you can get your money back instead. You’ll get a refund for all parts of the ticket you haven’t used.
For instance, if you have booked a return flight and you are bumped from the outbound leg, you can get the full cost of the return ticket back from your airline.
If you’re part-way through a journey, your airline should also provide a flight back to your starting point.
Learn more about how to claim compensation after you’ve been bumped.