Know Your Travel Rights: What you need to know if an airline overbooks your flight

- Charles Leocha, founder and chairman of the non-profit passengers-rights organization, Travelers United, spoke with FOX 5 about the incident on a United Express flight at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and says in his 40 years in the travel industry he has never seen an incident like this.

"When I first saw the video – my stomach just turned,” he told us. He compared the incident on the plane with scenes from a movie about Hitler’s Germany and the KGB in the Soviet Union. “It's an extreme and normally, thank heavens, this is not the way airlines treat passengers."

Overbooking, Denied Boarding Or Bumping

Voluntary bumping
Almost any planeload of airline passengers includes some people with urgent travel needs and others who may be more concerned about the cost of their tickets than about getting to their destination on time. DOT rules require airlines to seek out passengers who are willing to give up their seats for compensation before bumping anyone involuntarily when there is an overbooked plane.

Involuntary bumping
Sometimes it doesn’t even work to dangle escalating compensation for voluntary bumpees before an overbooked plane. If there aren’t enough volunteers, some passengers will be left behind involuntarily. This is where the regulation comes into play.

Boarding priorities
Airlines set their own “boarding priorities” — the order in which they will bump different categories of passengers in an oversale situation. When a flight is oversold and there are not enough volunteers, some airlines bump passengers with the lowest fares first. Others bump the last passengers to check in.


The problem, he says, began when the front line management made quick decisions that turned out to be wrong. "The bad decision started before that. They started when United could not even keep track of its own people in terms of where they should be at what time. If they had done this one minute earlier, ten minutes earlier, they could have ahead of time said we have an over booked situation and they could have dealt with this as normal over booking."

Leocha said if the airline had offered more compensation for the passengers, they may have gotten volunteers who were willing to stay behind. "If it's that important to get these passengers to that particular location, so important that they want to beat up a passenger and drag him off the flight, then I think it's worth 2,000, $3,000. And now it's going to be a heck of a lot more to them."

Leocha said each airline has a different set of rules that dictates how people can be removed from a flight. The specific 'Contract of Carriage' often lists a hierarchy of passengers – for instance a frequent flyer, or a cheap seat holder. Leocha said passengers can ask to see that contract.

"I'm totally disgusted by this whole operation and I think the CEO - if he was dragged around I think he'd be a little bit more disgusted as well."


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