Action News Troubleshooters: Avoid getting bumped from your flight

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Action News Troubleshooters: Avoid getting bumped from your flight. Nydia Han reports during Action News at 11 p.m. on December 13, 2018.

The last thing you want during this busy travel season is to get bumped from your flight. And while the rate of involuntary bumps has gone done significantly since last year, it can still happen.

Donna Jozwiak/Springfield, Pennsylvania said, "He couldn't wait to go. He was very excited, all of his friends were excited."

But Donna Jozwiak says her son missed the very beginning of a spring break trip to the Bahamas after getting bumped from his flight.

"They said the flight is overbooked, 10 of us don't have a seat," said Donna.

"Bumping" or "denied boarding" happens when there are more passengers scheduled to fly than there are available seats.

Some airlines allow this to happen by overselling to cover "no-shows."

And there are other factors, including weather and operational issues.

"The manager came down and said there is nothing we can do. This happens all the time. It's out of our control," said Donna.

American Airlines and Donna have conflicting stories on whether Donna's son was involuntarily bumped, but here's what we know for certain: Some airlines, including American, bump customers more than others.

According to the Federal Air Travel Consumer Report - the airlines with the recent record for the most involuntary denied boardings are Southwest, American, and Spirit.

From January to September of this year - Southwest Airlines denied boardings to more than 2000 people.

American Airlines more than 1800, and Spirit Airlines more than 1400.

"I think it's ridiculous, I think it's unfair. It needs to be stopped," said Donna.

Your Troubleshooter Tips are these:

If you're denied boarding, with a few exceptions - know that by law - you're entitled to compensation up to $1350.

And to avoid getting bumped in the first place - check in as early as possible. It's best to do it online before you even leave for the airport.

The last passengers to check in for a flight are typically the ones who get bumped involuntarily.

Donna's son did get on a flight to the Bahamas the next day plus a 3600 dollar voucher each to use in the future.

And again, American Airlines says he volunteered to give up his seat. The company also says the number of involuntarily denied boardings at American is very small and "New procedures are already showing a reduction to the low numbers as we work to bring the number closer to zero."

In looking into this, our records show that the passenger volunteered to give up his seat on this flight in exchange for $3,600 in travel vouchers.

The Department of Transportation sets the guidelines for compensation if passengers are involuntarily denied boarding/bumped. In this case, the passenger would have been entitled to $1,350 in the form of a check. As I mentioned, he instead volunteered to give up his seat and was issued a $3,600 travel voucher. Here is the Department of Transportation mandated guidelines for compensation given in the event of someone being involuntarily denied boarding:

I do realize that other recent airline events have drawn concern about customer impacts from airlines overselling flights. An over sale situation occurs when more confirmed passengers arrive at the gate on the day-of-departure than the number of seats on the aircraft. More than 50 percent of over sales is due to operational factors, including weight/balance restrictions, equipment swaps due to air traffic congestion, moving crew members to avoid future service disruptions, and accommodating Federal Air Marshals.

American's process for accommodating customers during over sale situations centers on soliciting volunteers to give up their seats. We do this in multiple ways. First, our Reservation Support Team identifies heavily oversold flights before customers arrive at the airport. With advance visibility to all customer itineraries, we can identify and reach out to customers for whom we have the best alternative options - sometimes even improving their routing or arrival time at their destination. Our team proactively calls customers to offer an alternate flight in exchange for a travel voucher. If that doesn't work, or we don't know a flight is oversold until customers check-in, then we rely on our gate agents to seek volunteers at the airport prior to boarding - this is what occurred with the passenger you are asking about.

Over the last year, we've worked to make our process even better. Our Day of Departure Desk-which troubleshoots departure issues across our network from Dallas/Fort Worth-now monitors every flight that is oversold and gets involved earlier than before to ensure that we can find volunteers.

Additionally, there is now a dedicated hotline into our Day of Departure desk so our gate agents can offer the compensation necessary to entice customers to volunteer. We have not established an upper limit on what we will pay to solicit volunteers, and have entrusted our team to make the best decisions to serve our customers.

Even before these new procedures were implemented, the number of involuntarily denied boardings at American was very small. In 2016, according to DOT statistics, out of 131 million American Airlines enplanements, only 8,312 customers, or 0.64 per every 10,000 customers, were involuntarily denied boarding. New procedures are already showing a reduction to the low numbers of involuntary denied boardings as we work to bring the number closer to zero.

Information on overseas, as well as the rest of our Conditions of Carriage is publicly available on ourwebsite here:

Our most recent DOT stats show a 76 percent decrease in invols between the same periods in 2017 vs. 2018.

1,041 invols from Jan.-Sept. 2018

4,517 invols from Jan.-Sept. 2017

Southwest Airlines Statement:

Last year after Dr. David Dao was dragged off a United flight, Southwest stopped the practice of overbooking flights. Voluntary and involuntary denied boardings can still happen but for other reasons like weather, operational issues and weight restrictions to name a few. However, Southwest tries very hard to get all of their passengers on their way as quickly as possible.

Air Travel Consumer Report: Passengers Denied Boarding

Aviation Consumer Protection: Bumping & Oversales

Spirit Airlines Statement:
We identified this as an issue that our Guests care about, and we have changed our processes leading to an over 90% reduction in involuntary denied boardings in the last several months. We believe the next report will show us now as one of the best carriers in this category.

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