Tips on Avoiding being Bumped from Your Flight
Accident statistics indicate that flying is twice as safe as taking a train or bus and 30 times safer than driving on a highway. But these figures don't matter if you get bumped from your scheduled flight.
With increasingly crowded planes and airlines experiencing full reservations on every flight schedule, the chances of being left at the gate are almost always certain. Here are a few helpful tips to avoid being bumped:
1. Book off-peak flights. Don't try for early morning (7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.) or rush-hour (4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.) flights on Mondays and Fridays. That's when business travelers fly, according to a consumer advocate for the American Society of Travel Agents. Sunday afternoons and evenings are also bad choices.
2. Reserve that seat before you go. Although airline policies vary, passengers with pre-assigned seats generally get priority. When your name is already in the system with seat 15C, for instance, you won't have to worry about reaching the front of the line and finding that all the seats are filled.
3. Arrive extra early. By law, airlines must ask if any passengers will voluntarily give up their seat before they deny you boarding. But if you're not there ten to 20 minutes before departure, you forfeit this right.
4. Check in up front. If you're late, don't waste 20 minutes trekking through the terminal to gate Z43. To get your name entered in the airline's computer system and be counted as "arrived," head straight to the closest ticket counter. If you end up in a long line, alert an airline representative about your flight time - you may be pushed to the front.
If you're told you can't board, there are two things you can do:
1. Hold out for a check. The airlines typically offer bumped passengers a voucher for a future flight as compensation, but you might be able to collect a bigger prize. According to Department of Transportation rules, if you're rerouted onto a flight that reaches your destination between one and two hours later than your original flight, you're entitled to compensation worth your one-way fare. If you think you're being given a flight voucher worth less than that allotted amount - or you'd prefer money - ask for a check. Air carriers must compensate you on the spot; don't let anyone tell you the check will be in the mail.
2. Make a deal. Depending on the carrier, you may be able to bargain for more money or perks. (Experts say American Airlines tends to be the most generous.) Request a round-trip ticket anywhere in the United States or 20,000 frequent-flier miles. And ask for extras while you wait: admission to the airline's VIP club, a calling card, a free meal, or free drink and headset coupons. If your flight doesn't leave until the next day, request a hotel voucher and reimbursement for meals and taxis. There's no guarantee you'll get it, but you're more likely to be accommodated if you're on the second leg of your trip or you're far from home.
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