HOUSTON – The summer travel season is shaping up to be a messy one. Both overbooked and canceled flights have airlines feeling the heat. If an airline is overbooked, can they make you change your flight? What should you get if you volunteer to get off the flight? Our KPRC 2 Investigates team has what you need to know before you take your next flight.
Expect flight delays and cancelations this summer
Have you ever been on a flight where the airline started offering deals to passengers to get off? You might see more of that this summer and there are some things you should know before taking those deals. Pilot and staff shortages plus record ticket sales mean thousands of flights have already been canceled this summer.
“This is a very challenging summer for the airlines,” said Mark Huffman with ConsumerAffairs.com.
Airports are packed with people ready to get out of town. That includes Dave and Carrie Clark who made their regular trip to St. John last month.
“The vacation was fantastic. The weather is fantastic. St. John is a beautiful, beautiful island, we love to go there,” said Clark. “And because it’s such a cool place to hang out, my wife decided to stay for an extra few days.”
Passenger takes up offer to change flights
For the trip back to Houston, Clark was all set to board a United Airlines flight when he heard the plane was overweight and they needed volunteers to get off.
“So if anyone has flexible travel plans, then we’re offering $500 if you can change your flight to tomorrow. So I went up and I volunteered,” he explained.
The good news was a United gate agent told Clark since passengers after him held out for a $2,500 flight voucher, he would get the same amount.
“She said that they will email you the travel voucher as well. Okay, there’s a lot of trust going on here,” he said.
The next day, there was no voucher credit. Clark kept in contact with eight other passengers who also did not get their credit.
“Nobody’s gotten anything. And United is just, you know, it’s all crickets,” said Clark.
What you should ask if you decide to give up your plane seat
“For voluntary bumping, it’s really whatever the passenger and the airline can negotiate,” explained Huffman.
- Know what you are getting
You should be clear about what the airline is offering in exchange for giving up your seat. If possible, get the offer in writing or take pictures.
“From a consumer standpoint, the first thing they should be concerned with is how is the airline going to get them to their destination, if they agree to give up their seat,” Huffman said.
- Ask exactly what type of seat they will get
Huffman said if the airline books you on another flight, ask if that is a guaranteed seat or if you are on standby
- When you can use the tickets is important
You don’t want to give up your seat for a ticket that you can’t use. If they offer flight credits, you should ask if there are blackout dates or can you fly anytime. Also, ask if the credits or vouchers expire.
Huffman said even though United told Clark it’s their policy to give him the same amount it offered to other passengers to get off, airlines don’t have to do that. It’s why you may want to hold out for a better offer if the airline needs several volunteers.
There are rules about involuntary bumping
“If there are no volunteers or not enough volunteers, the airline is perfectly within its rights to involuntarily bump a passenger,” said Huffman.
If the airline makes you get off the plane, the Department of Transportation spells out how much the airline must compensate you. The longer it takes the airline to get you to your destination, the more you get.
In the end, Clark did get the travel vouchers United Airlines offered him. Huffman said if an airline promises you something, but then doesn’t deliver- you should file a complaint with the Department of Transportation.
United Airlines’ statement regarding Clark’s flight voucher
“United flight UA2208 on May 22nd experienced a weight and balance issue, which rendered us unable to accommodate all passengers on the flight.
We offered several passengers the option to re-book on alternative flights and offered travel certificates as a gesture of thanks and goodwill. We also booked these passengers into a nearby hotel. We sincerely regret the agent oversight in issuing the travel certificates - this issue has been resolved and all passengers should have already received their certificates or should expect them to arrive in the coming days.”