Airlines owe you money if you volunteer to be bumped from a flight. Here’s how much

Sunscreen? Check. Favourite vacation outfit? Check. Read up on flight compensation regulations? Check.

As we buckle up for another chaotic summer travel season, it’s important Canadians know what to do if their flight has been overbooked.

Overbooking happens when airlines — and most do — sell a small percentage of seats more than the aircraft permits.

It’s a practice that ensures airlines don’t lose too much money if you’re a no-show, had a change of travel plans or missed a connecting flight.

While this system generally works smoothly, there’s still a chance you will either be asked to volunteer your seat or, in rare cases, get bumped.

The good news is that you can be compensated financially by volunteering to change your flight to a later time. Airlines “might lowball you at first just to see if anyone bites,” says Barry Choi, a travel and personal finance expert, “but they will probably just offer the full compensation you’re entitled to if they need to get the flight going.”

According to regulations laid out by Canadian Transportation Agency, airlines need to give passengers as much notice as possible about any flight delays. If you’re informed about a delay 14 days or less before the original departure time, you can be compensated for the inconvenience.

The CTA states you can expect between $400 and $1,000 if you fly with a large airline like Air Canada. Smaller carriers are required to pay between $125 and $500. Passengers have a year to file a formal request with the airline to receive compensation, which the airline then needs to pay out within thirty days.

If there aren’t enough volunteers, airlines might involuntarily bump you, says Gábor Lukács, founder of the non-profit organization Air Passenger Rights. Depending on the length of your delay, the CTA states the airline must provide you with meals, accommodation and a lump sum compensation of up to $2,400 for bumping a passenger for reasons within their control. You can negotiate for more, but Choi says it’s hard to say how much power a gate agent has.

Lukács adds that regulations require airlines to pay within 48 hours of being denied boarding, but “the overarching problem with all this is that airlines are not following the law.”

Airlines try to hide overbooking by not giving passengers their boarding passes or moving them to different flights without their knowledge, explains Lukács. “That’s a serious ongoing problem.” And it helps, he adds, if you’re able to document your conversations with the gate agent in case you need to dispute something later on.

The bottom line, according to Lukács: “If an airline wants to bump you, make sure that it’s clear that you’re not volunteering and ask for … something in writing that you’re being bumped and the reasons for it.”


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