Ask Gadling: How do I get bumped from a flight?

Today’s question comes from Mary in San Jose, CA:

Hi, I’m flying from San Jose to Appleton, WI. I’d like to know what to do if I get bumped? Will they let me call the person waiting for me to let them know I won’t be on time?

Gadling: What Mary’s referring to is the legendary “bump,” the notion that if a flight is oversold that the airline will offer passengers compensation to skip it and take the next best route. Rarely, they may even involuntarily bump passengers and offer a higher rate of compensation, but this event is pretty uncommon — lots of people usually volunteer for the initial bump call because they want vouchers for future travel.

Should you find yourself on an overbooked flight, Mary, gate agents will first likely make an announcement in the gate area asking if anyone is willing to change flights for a travel voucher. For a domestic flight, this is usually around $300, but this can be slightly more or less.

If you hear this announcement, you want to be the first person up to that counter to volunteer — there will be plenty of other willing people in the same boat as you.

View more Ask Gadling: Travel Advice from an Expert or send your question to ask [at] gadling [dot] com.

Before you run up to the gate all helter-skelter though, make sure you’re well prepared for the consequences. If there are no alternative routes home that day, you may be forced to spend the night in your current city or worse, even in the airport. You also may be forced to endure long layovers either at your current location or somewhere en route on the way home. Is that worth the flight voucher? Only you can tell.

Not sure if your flight is overbooked? You can always go to to check how full your flights are. It can be difficult to read, but if you look up your flight and see lots of red zeroes next to it then you can bet that it’s overbooked.

Alternatively, you can always call the airline to ask how full the flight is — they’re not legally obligated to tell you if the flight is overbooked, but they’ll give you a good indication. And if you find the right agent, he or she will tell you how overbooked it is.

As a rule of thumb, Mary, assume that your flight isn’t overbooked and that it’s going to operate as normal. If you do get bumped, you should have plenty of time to reorient your return trip, make a few calls and get yourself in order for your next flight(s).

If you want more details on the whole process and how to engineer it to your advantage, check out Gadling’s Guide to Getting Bumped that we published a couple of years back.

[photo credit via the strangely familiar davitydave on flickr]