Armchair Traveller

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A flyer's guide to getting bumped

A flyer's guide to getting bumped

Airline overbooking as an art

It shouldn't come as a shock that airlines regularly overbook flights to cover passengers that don't show and ensure there's a bum in every seat wherever possible. In fact, according to the Department of Transportation in the US, last year out of 595 million commercial air travellers roughly 681,000 were bumped off of their flights.

The majority of those bumped volunteered their seats in exchange for compensation from the airline and a seat on the next available flight. And that 'compensation' can be pretty spesh — expect upgrades, vouchers good to spend with the airline, hotel perks and free flights.

So as fuel prices creep up and airlines cut capacity, how can you ensure you get the most out of a bump? We've got a few tips to make sure you elect to step off your next flight (or the one following it) a winner.

  • Book a bumper: There are certain flights that are bound to be oversold. Consider the most popular flights (like the last one of the day, the first flight out, typical business routes like Sydney or Melbourne to Canberra with 9am arrivals or 5pm departures, etcetera), and grab yourself a ticket on the plane most likely to be packed out.

  • Teacher's pet: When you check in, ask the attendant how full your flight is. If they reckon it's a sardine tin, tell them straight away that you'd like to volunteer for a bump should the need arise. Then your name will be first on the list. If check-in staff aren't taking names, bulldoze your way through security and directly to the boarding gate (do not pass 'go', do not collect an Orange Mocha Frappuccino), and grab a perch directly in front of the gate desk. That way before the lady in blue (they're always ladies in blue) can even get through a "Can I have your attention?" you're poised with your ticket and an eager, here-to-please smile inches from her acrylic nails.

  • Wet and wild: Severe weather often leads to cancelled flights, and those cancellations lead to overly packed aircraft. If you can, fly through airports that see extreme elements (like, for instance, our tropical capitals during the wet season, or Chicago O'Hare and London's Heathrow in the winter). This will increase your chances of being off-loaded.

  • A bit of an ask: Before confirming your happiness to hand over your boarding pass, ask airline staff to clarify exactly what you'll be getting in return. Is it a business class seat on the next flight? When does that flight depart? Are you guaranteed a seat? If it isn't for several hours, does your bump package include meal and drink vouchers? Perhaps access to a day room at the airport hotel so you can freshen up? Is there a land line you can use to alert friends and family or colleagues of your tardy trip? And how about vouchers for future travel? Now don't be a pain in the ace about it — test the waters to see what's on offer — and be sure to be your most pleasant self. Gate agents hold the power here, and it's in your best interests to get them on-side as mates from the get-go. Or else you potentially won't be going anywhere for a l-o-o-o-n-g time.


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User comments
It is articles like this that reinforce the entitlement *** of travel. If you want a business class ticket, here's a thought - PAY FOR IT!!!! Why should the airlines upgrade or bump you just because you feel you deserve it. I have only ever flow economy class in all my worldly travels (and there have been quite a few). I have never been offered an upgrade or a bump and I have read and followed all of the supposed do's and dont's to getting one - they are false. The only way to get a free upgrade is to be obnoxious, rude and a complete asshat. Airlines only seem to reward bad customers, never the good, and I refuse to swap my morals for a little extra leg room.
Being bumped from a flight can be very rewarding, especially in the USA where you can book a flight, but not pay a deposit (which is why flights are overbooked...passengers have nothing to lose if they don't turn up). I have been given overnight hotel accomodation, free flight vouchers, taxi vouchers, food vouchers, upgrades, and my choice of when I want to fly. If you have to stay somewhere on your way to your untimate destination (and you don't care where if you don't have to pay), then offering to be bumped is great value. It doesn't work in Australia, though, as flights are usually paid for before you arrive at the airport, and we have much more strict check in regulations with regard to time and fare conditions etc. I've never tried it anywhere other than the USA, so not sure if it works elsewhere. Any comments?

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