Your Rights as a Passenger: What to do when your seat is bumped

Recently, the public witnessed a flight turn for the worst in a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville because of an overbooked flight. Because the incident could have happened to anyone, it is important for passengers to know what to do in these situations. 

On April 9, a video shocked the public as two officials violently forced a passenger, David Dao, out of his seat after he refused to give up his seat, which resulted in bloody injuries. It is without a doubt that United Airlines should be responsible for their actions against the passenger, but travelers should still know their rights in case of an involuntary removal.

Overbooking is a common practice, and about 46,000 passengers were involuntarily bumped from their flights last year.

“There will be much more of this in the future, so people really need to know what to do and what they’re entitled to,” says Henrik Zillmer, CEO of, according to TIME news.


  • Airlines must ask for volunteers before involuntarily removing passengers. Airlines will make offers to volunteers, and you give up your rights to additional compensation once you accept the offer.
  • Airlines can involuntarily remove passengers when there are no volunteers.
  • Airlines must communicate you rights, usually in written form. They must explain the reason and compensation as well.
  • Airlines must also rebook and pay you for involuntary removals. Airlines must pay involuntarily removed passengers if they will be more than an hour late to their destination. The government has laid out specific compensation requirements. If your bumped arrival time is two hours later than planned, airlines must compensate 200% of the ticket fee with a maximum of $675. If the bumped arrival times is 4 hours later, airlines must compensate 400% of the fee with a maximum of $1,350.
  • Airlines can set their own boarding priorities whether it is class, fare, entrance or flight frequency.


  • You can ask for your compensation in check. Most compensation is initially offered in vouchers with an expiration date, which is useless if you do not travel often. If you do not ask for a check, it is still possible to file a claim with the airline.
  • Protections apply to involuntary removals only.
  • You can be penalized. Passengers are not allowed to interfere with crewmembers’ duties onboard, which means it is best to cooperate with the airline as much as possible. Airlines can remove passengers for a number of reasons. Furthermore, there are fines up to $25,000 for passengers that do not cooperate with airline regulations.

Last Tips:

  • Most vouchers have expirations dates, so please ask for them and accept them wisely.
  • In order to avoid involuntary removals, try to check in earlier. Many times airlines will remove passengers based on who checked in last.
  • Lastly, sign up for the carrier’s loyalty program because airlines also prioritize passengers in their loyalty programs.