Within the past year, major airlines have implemented a number of policy changes that directly impact travelers. One such change involves airlines seating policies. Airlines have complete control over airline seats inventory – They have final say as to the number of seats (as well as their location on the aircraft) that are made available to travel agencies. Airline policies vary from airline to airline – there is no industry-wide policy. Airlines’ rules, policies, and information change often (without notice). Below is information that may be helpful in understanding airline policies when it comes to seating and compensation for involuntary bumping.
Seat "Upgrades" in Coach
The roomy emergency row seats were the first coach seats awarded special status (and special price tags). Now airlines have gone so far as to identify other select seats that travelers are willing to pay extra for, including seats in the first few rows, aisle seats, and window seats. For instance, US Airway's Choice Seats program asks travelers to opt for "premium" seats 24 hours before their scheduled flight (up to 90 minutes before the flight's scheduled departure) for an added fee starting at $5. These seat selections make up roughly 8% of coach's total capacity. Do you value leg room above all else? Jet Blue's Even More Legroom seating, offered on select routes and planes, offers 4 more inches of space for charges running from $10-20 each way.
The bottom line: This is a good thing for last-minute ticket purchasers who might otherwise be relegated to coach's remaining dregs, but planners who typically grab these better seats well in advance might resent having to ante up. It helps to be an elite member of the airline's loyalty program. On US Airways, for instance, Dividend Miles Preferred members do not pay an additional fee and can grab one of these choice seats right when they book their flight.
DOT requires each airline to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn't. Those travelers who don't get to fly are frequently entitled to an on-the-spot payment of denied boarding compensation. The amount depends on the price paid for their ticket and the length of the delay:
• If you are bumped involuntarily and the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to get you to your final destination (including later connections) within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, there is no compensation.
• If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to your one-way fare to your final destination, with a $400 maximum.
• If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (200% of your fare, $800 maximum).
• You always get to keep your original ticket and use it on another flight. If you choose to make your own arrangements, you can request an "involuntary refund" for the ticket for the flight you were bumped from. The denied boarding compensation is essentially a payment for your inconvenience.
Note: Like all rules, however, there are a few conditions and exceptions:
Rules and Conditions for Bumping Compensation
To be eligible for compensation, you must have a confirmed reservation. A written confirmation issued by the airline or an authorized agent or reservation service qualifies you in this regard even if the airline can't find your reservation in the computer, as long as you didn't cancel your reservation or miss a reconfirmation deadline.
You must meet the airline's deadline for buying your ticket. Discount tickets must usually be purchased within a certain number of days after the reservation was made. Other tickets normally have to be picked up no later than 30 minutes before the flight. In addition to the ticketing deadline, each airline has a check-in deadline, which is the amount of time before scheduled departure that you must present yourself to the airline at the airport. For domestic flights most carriers require you to be at the departure gate between 10 minutes and 30 minutes before scheduled departure, but some deadlines can be an hour or longer. Check-in deadlines on international flights can be as much as three hours before scheduled departure time.
If the airline must substitute a smaller plane for the one it originally planned to use, the carrier is not required to compensate those are bumped. Additionally, compensation is not required when a traveler is bumped due to safety-related aircraft weight or balance constraints when using aircraft with 30 - 60 seats. Different rules apply for charter flights, scheduled flights operated with planes that hold fewer than 30 passengers and international flights. Ask the airline for details, or contact DOT.
When a flight is oversold and there are not enough volunteers, some airlines bump passengers with the lowest fares first. Once you have purchased your ticket, the most effective way to reduce the risk of being bumped is to get to the airport early. For passengers in the same fare class the last passengers to check in are usually the first to be bumped. Always allow extra time. Airlines may offer free transportation on future flights in place of a check for denied boarding compensation. If, however, you are bumped involuntarily, you have the right to insist on a check if that is your preference. The government's denied boarding regulation spells out the airlines' minimum obligation to people who are bumped involuntarily.
It is always Omega’s goal to provide travelers their seat-of-choice. As airlines decrease the number of scheduled flights and continue to use seats, services, and amenities to generate additional revenue, travel agencies’ and agents’ ability to fulfill specific seating requests have been greatly impacted. We greatly appreciate your cooperation and understanding as we continue to attempt to provide superior service to our valued HHS travelers.