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Getting Bumped from a Flight?  Know Your Rights!

Getting Bumped from a Flight? Know Your Rights!

After years of consumer complaints, in 2013 the Canadian Transport Agency got involved in the battle.  While there is still no standardized compensation plan across the industry, individual court challenges by persistent souls have made gains with specific airlines. 

Airlines are allowed to overbook flights.  But they must now compensate (at least a little more fairly) for anyone they bump due to flight overbooking. 

While there have been recent successful court cases challenging Air Canada and Porter's bumping policies and compensation, it is interesting to note that West Jet claims not to over book at all.

Up until 2013, the maximum required compensation for being bumped from an Air Canada flight was $100 cash or a $200 travel voucher.   "Not good enough", said the CTA!

How to Avoid Getting Bumped

Each airline has their own protocol for bumping.  For example, it may be the people who paid the lowest fares.  Or they may bump in order of who was last to check in.

Here are some simple tips to avoid getting bumped:

  • Pay in advance for seat selection (usually requires you pay a fee)
  • Check in online up 24 hours before your flight
  • Arrive at the airport early to complete check-in process and check your bags

Canadian Transportation Agency's General Rules for Bumping

  •  Before bumping anyone from a flight, the airline is required to make an announcement asking for volunteers to give up their seat.  At this point, the airline may offer compensation to volunteers at an amount they deem appropriate.  As this is voluntary at this point, there is no specific amount that they are required to offer.  However, feel free to try to negotiate!
  • If too few volunteers are found, the airline will begin bumping. 
    • In Canada, the CTA leaves the compensation up to individual airlines.  A court ruling in 2013 ruled that Air Canada, must offer the following compensation:
      • $200 CAD cash for a delay of up to 2 hours
      • $400 CAD cash for a delay of 2 - 6 hours
      • $800 CAD cash for a delay of 6 hours or more
      • OR Air Canada can offer travel vouchers for up to 3 times those amounts

You may have to push.  It is unlikely that airlines will initially offer you this amount.  It's important to know your rights.

Also, from time to time airlines may offer you meal vouchers at the airport for delays due to any number of reasons.  If that meal voucher is laughably small (such as $10), it is completely appropriate to ask for more.  I have successfully negotiated this in the past.  Recently on a layover in Toronto, I paid $22 at a kiosk for a basic ham sandwich and a large bottle of water.  $10 will hardly get you a granola bar and a juice box.

In this Case, America Does it Better

The U.S. DOT airline compensation package is much more fairly enforced.  Each bumped passenger is required to receive a written bill of rights from the airline, detailing their rights and how the specific airline decides who gets bumped.  Also in 2013, the courts forced Porter Airlines to offer compensation in line with U.S. DOT guidelines for flights departing from the U.S.  It remains to be seen whether this will hold up for other airlines.

The U.S. compensation rates are as follows:

  • 200% of the airfare, up to a maximum of $650 USD for a delay of up to 4 hours
  • 400% of the airfare, up to a maximum of $1300 USD for a delay of 4 hours or greater

Important note:  While I have read of several court cases online where the courts required flights originating from the U.S. to pay consumers out as per U.S. Dot airlines, Air Canada clearly states a lesser compensation policy.  I'm not sure how much luck you'd have trying to pressure for the higher amount.


The waters really haven't been tested much in Canadian court for international flights.  Europe has a generous bill of rights for passengers, however, it remains to be seen if the CTA/the courts would enforce it on Canadian flights originating from Europe.

In Europe, factors such as the length of a passenger's journey and the length of the delay are taken into consideration.  Passengers can be compensated up to €600 plus a refund for the ticket or a rebooking.

What are my Rights?

For a detailed list of your compensation rights, as they apply to each airline, visit the CTA's very useful link.  I think I will be carrying a copy of this with me on business trips!

How to Complain

If you feel your rights weren't respected, you can contact the Canadian Transport Agency.  I did just call the number to ask a wide variety of questions.  The person who answered the phone admitted he hadn't much idea and had never heard of the U.S. DOT guidelines.  Not promising.  I proceeded to ask him a series of about 10 follow-up questions about bumping regulations and court cases in Canada, he didn't seem to have a detailed answer for any of them.  He did offer to take a complaint and look into it, if I had one.

Check out the video below for some tips from the CTA.

In conclusion, you'll probably have to fight for any compensation you get.  Airlines will avoid telling you what they're legally obligated to pay and the CTA can't seem to get it together to create a coherent, comprehensive policy.  Good luck.





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