My husband and I traveled to Chicago over the weekend to attend my younger brother’s wedding. We were booked on a 7:25am Continental flight out of Newark, which turned out to be oversold. Five people agreed to take later flights in exchange for $500 travel vouchers, but we just wanted to get to Chicago, so we didn’t volunteer. Unfortunately, we became what’s known in the business as “invols.”
Luckily, the FAA’s new “bumping rule” for passengers who don’t make it on the flight went into effect this month. If the airline can’t get you on a flight that lands within two hours (or four hours for international flights) of your originally scheduled arrival time, you receive 200 percent of the value your one-way fare to your next stopover or final destination, up to $800. If they are able re-route you in that time frame, you receive 100 percent of your one-way fare up to $400. (See rule 25 here for Continental’s policy.)
It’s a little confusing – and the agents at Gate C90, where we collected compensation, seemed to be struggling with their calculators. We ended up getting seats on the 10:45am and 2:45pm respectively. We were offered either the $500 travel voucher the volunteers had received, or 200 percent of our one-way fare, up to $800. We took the certified check. (Still wondering if that was the best idea, but cash seemed to be king in the heat of the moment.)
We had paid about $350 for a roundtrip ticket, so I thought we would each get $350. Instead, we got twice the one-way fare to Chicago – which was $181.10, including taxes. (Our return fare was a little cheaper.) So we each received $362.20 – a little more than the $350 we had each paid round-trip.
There are a bunch of exceptions to the new bumping rule: You get nothing if the airline can book you on another flight within 60 minutes of your scheduled arrival time; had to substitute a smaller plane because of mechanical problems; or does not fully comply with the airline’s procedures (a rather vague policy if you ask me.)
Along with the cash, Continental gave us $16 in food vouchers and first-class seats on the later flights. It made a long journey to Chicago a little less painful.