One of the worst airline practices is overbooking, and EC 261 strives to curb that behavior by holding airlines accountable. They face strict penalties when you face involuntarily denied boarding. You bought the ticket, and you should be able to take advantage of it to get to your destination on your terms.

Overbooking Eligibility

Overbooking is one of the spots that doesn’t have a lot of gray areas in most flight compensation laws. If you purchased a ticket and received confirmation, you should be able to get on your flight. However, that’s not always the case when a flight is overbooked – and that’s of no fault of your own, making it an even bigger headache! You may be eligible for compensation if you are the victim of overbooking if you meet the following criteria:

  • Your flight took place in the European Union or eligible airspace. This can include taking off from both EU- and non-EU-based aircrafts or if you landed in the EU on an EU-based aircraft.
  • You did not voluntarily decide to give up your seat in exchange for any type of compensation directly from the airline. If you did, this changes the circumstances from involuntary to voluntary denied boarding, and only involuntary boarding is covered under EC 261.
  • You have not already received compensation from their airline as a result of this overbooking, and it has occurred at least in the last three years, though some countries have stricter rules.
  • You were not denied boarding for something in your control, like being late, improper documentation, behavioral issues, or more. It has to be involuntary (meaning out of your control) for the denied boarding to qualify.

When you booked your ticket, you did so on the understanding that you would be able to get to your destination. You weren’t on standby – just hoping you could get on the flight. You paid the same fares as other passengers, so you should have the same rights as them as well. Overbooking is more common in the US than it is in the EU, but it still happens. If you face it, you could receive up to €600 in compensation.

What Does Overbooking Mean?

Overbooking is when the airline sells more tickets than there are seats on a given flight. They take a gamble, hoping that some passengers won’t show up to their flight or that they will cancel at the last minute. If this happens, then you never know that you were on the bubble. It only becomes a problem if they miscalculated and everyone showed up. Then, they’re forced to pick passengers to bump from the flight, placing them on the next available to get them to their final destination.

This is a common practice because it happens more than you think. On average, anywhere between 5 and 15 percent of passengers are no-shows on their flights for any number of reasons. Certain routes and times are likely to see this behavior, so they take the chance and hope for the best. If you are the victim of overbooking, you have more rights than you may think. Accept the airline’s offer to help book you on the next flight and check all documentation to ensure you’re not signing your rights away. Once you’re there, file a claim under EC 261 to receive up to €600 in additional compensation. As long as you didn’t waive your rights, you are eligible.

What does Denied Boarding Mean?

Denied boarding means that you are not able to get on the plane despite having a ticket, and there are two different types: involuntary and voluntary. When you’re the victim of overbooking, you will be involuntarily denied boarding. That means you are not allowed to board the plane under no fault of your own. You have your ticket. You paid in full and even had a confirmation number. Maybe you even had a seat number; however, you’re still not able to get on the plane. You are being denied boarding.

Voluntary denied boarding is when you voluntarily give up your seat. There can be any number of reasons that you would do this. Perhaps you’re not in a hurry, and the airline is offering great perks to make it worth your while. Sometimes they will offer money, miles, travel vouchers, meals, drink tickets, and more – anything that will make you think twice about getting on that plane. If you voluntarily give up your seat, you likely waive your rights to file a claim, so make sure it’s worth it! Sometimes the compensation the airline is offering will be better than what you can claim under EC 261.

What is Covered on EU Flights?

Fortunately for those traveling in Europe, this practice isn’t as common as it is in the United States. However, it still can happen, so it’s important to understand your rights. You may be eligible for up to €600 in additional compensation if you are involuntarily denied boarding in the EU.

Involuntary Boarding denials

The most important thing to remember when it comes to denied boarding under EC 261 is that only involuntary boardings are covered. If you volunteer your seat, no matter what the circumstances, then you are not eligible to file a claim. You surrender your right to additional compensation, so make sure that what you’re getting is more than what you could claim. Depending on the circumstances, you could receive up to €600, so make it count.

Additionally, if you are at fault because you’re late, lost your boarding pass, didn’t have proper documentation, or otherwise caused an issue or security concern, this will also not be covered.

European/International flights

Your flight has to have a touchpoint in Europe to qualify, but there are some additional circumstances you want to keep in mind. These include:

  • From inside the EU while using EU-based air carriers or Non-EU-based air carriers.
  • From inside the EU to outside the EU while using EU-based air carriers or Non-EU-based air carriers.
  • From outside the EU to inside the EU as long as you’re on an EU-based air carrier.

Now, there are some European airspaces that EC 261 also applies to, including Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland. It also applies to Europe’s outermost regions, including French Guiana and Martinique, Mayotte, Guadeloupe and La Réunion, Saint-Martin, Madeira and the Azores, and the Canary Islands.

What’s Covered on US Flights?

Because overbooking is more common in the US, there are some solid laws in place to protect passengers, even more so than from delays or cancelations. If you are denied boarding, you may be eligible for up to $1,350, depending on the circumstances, so it’s worth your while to file a claim.

Involuntary Boarding denials

Much like in Europe, only involuntary boardings are covered under US law, but it takes it one step further. Only involuntary boarding due to overbooking is covered. If you are refused entry for something in your control – perhaps you were late or posed a security risk – you will not be eligible for additional compensation.

If you voluntarily gave up your reservation, you are not eligible, though you’ll likely receive additional compensation from the airline. This could be in the form of miles, travel vouchers, cash, meals, drink tickets, and more. They will offer up what is within their power before they involuntarily bump someone and face steep fees.

US Flights

If you’re looking to file a claim in the US, then you must be flying on a US-based air carrier between US cities. Additionally, you can also be flying internationally; however, these flights must originate in the United States to qualify. If they don’t, you may be eligible to claim under EC 261, the Montreal Convention, Brazilian ANAC 400, or local regulations.

Sometimes, your airline will also have compensation spelled out in their terms and conditions, so read up on what you’re eligible for. Just remember, if you voluntarily give up your seat, make sure what you’re getting from the airline outweighs what you could receive by filing a claim.

What Compensation Can I Get?

The compensation you get for your flight depends on the circumstances of your denied boarding and where you are flying. The rates vary in the EU and the US, so it’s important to understand your rights. Ultimately, as long as you are denied boarding under no fault of your own, you should be able to file for compensation – just make sure you didn’t accidentally waive your rights by accepting additional compensation from the airlines.

EU Flights

Once you understand if your flight is eligible, now you want to know how much you are eligible to claim! That’s natural, so the two things you want to keep in mind are if your flight was within the EU and how far you were planning on traveling. Now that you have that in mind, here’s what you could be eligible for if you are involuntarily denied boarding due to overbooking under EC 261.

  • If your flight is less than 1,500km, you can receive €250.
  • If your flight is within the EU and more than 1,500 km, you can receive €400.
  • If your flight is not within the EU and is between 1,500 and 3,000 km, you can receive €400.
  • If your flight is not within the EU and is more than 3,500 km, you can receive €600.

These are flat rates, so there’s not a lot of wiggle room when it comes to claiming your compensation under EC 261 – but that can be a good thing! You always know what to expect. All that’s important is that you are protected under EC 261 and will get to where you need to go eventually.

US Flights

The US claims for involuntarily denied boarding due to overbooking are more complicated than EC 261. How much you’ll receive depends on how long your delay is and if you are flying internationally or domestically.

If you’re flying domestically and your flight is delayed between

  • 1-2 hours, you are eligible for 200 percent of the one-way fare to your destination not to exceed $675.
  • 2+ hours, you are eligible for 400 percent of the one-way fare to your destination not to exceed $1,350.

If you are flying internationally, and your flight is delayed between

  • 1-2 hours, you are eligible for 200 percent of the one-way fare to your destination not to exceed $675.
  • 2-4 hours, you are eligible for 200 percent of the one-way fare to your destination not to exceed $675.
  • 4+ hours, you are eligible for 400 percent of the one-way fare to your destination not to exceed $1,350.

Now, your destination refers to either your final destination or the first place you have a planned layover of more than 4 hours. You can get cash in this case if you don’t want to worry about travel vouchers or other credits.

When Can I Get Compensation?

Unlike other issues where you have to file a claim and wait to see if they will accept it if you are denied boarding, you can receive your compensation immediately. As soon as you’re denied boarding, the airline can issue your compensation for your inconvenience. This is in addition to any additional accommodations they provide, like alternate flights, hotels, transport, and more.

The airline may try to give you travel vouchers, miles, drink tickets, and more. If you travel a lot and want to accept this form of compensation, great! But, if you prefer your compensation in cash, you’re in luck. The airlines are required to provide cash compensation upon request. They may not offer it as an option, but as long as you understand your rights, you know that you can ask for it.

Don’t wait until you get home or after the fact. Get it immediately at the airport for your trouble. If you do file a claim later, you need to make sure that it is within the allotted time frame based on your country. Some require you to file it within a few years to be timely in the claim process.

What Care Can I Get?

Under EC 261, they spell out the care you’re required to receive if you are denied boarding. Some of these also apply if you are denied boarding in the US, so it’s important to understand what you’re entitled to get the best care. If you have any questions, ask customer service.

Right to Reimbursement/Rerouting

First and foremost, if you are denied boarding, you have a right to be reimbursed for the flight and re-routed to your final destination on a new flight. This should be the next available, even if it is not through the same airline. If you could get there faster by train, bus, or other transport, these are also options the airline should be giving you. It is not your fault you couldn’t get on the plane, and they need to do everything in their power to make it right. Just because you’re getting to your destination doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be reimbursed for your trouble.

Right to Care

As you wait, you have the right to receive care if your delay is more than 3 hours. At this point, you should be offered meals and refreshments. If your delay is severe and overnight, then you should be offered accommodations. If you are staying offsite, they should also provide you with transport to and from the airport. You also should be given access to communication channels, including phone calls, faxes, and emails. They can’t just forget about you after you’ve been booked. They are required to care for you until they can get you where you need to be.

Upgrading/Downgrading

The airline can take all necessary means to get you on the next flight, and that could include upgrading you or downgrading you to make it work. If you are offered an upgrade, congratulations! You can take that one free of charge and enjoy the perks of the higher class – you deserve it after all the trouble! If they offer to downgrade you, that may also be okay because you will be offered between 30 to 75 percent of the price of your original ticket back.

They cannot charge you for upgrades and must pay you back for downgrades. Neither are cost-efficient for their airlines, so they try to exhaust all other options at first.

Further Compensation

If you are involuntarily denied boarding, even if their airline offers you perks to compensate you for the situation, you can still claim under EC 261, just as long as you did not voluntarily waive your rights. Don’t sign anything you didn’t read first to prevent this from happening. This does not apply if you voluntarily relinquished your reservation. If this is the case, whatever you get from the airline is all you will be eligible for, so make sure you make it count!

Notification

Under EC 261, airlines are required to notify you of your rights. They need to have these regulations posted so you can easily see them. This is typically at check-in, though they may also be listed at the customer service desk. If it is not visible, request to see a copy before you accept anything from the airline. You want to make sure that you do not relinquish your rights if you want to seek further compensation. If you do decide to take what they are offering you, make sure it’s good! Often when airlines are desperate, they will give you more than EC 261 will.

What to Do If You’re Denied Boarding?

If you’re denied boarding, as hard as it may be, try to stay calm and keep the following steps in mind to help you claim the compensation you deserve.

  • Don’t volunteer to give up your seat. If you voluntarily relinquish your reservation, you will not be eligible for additional compensation.
  • Gather your evidence – keep your boarding passes, travel documents, communication from their airline, pictures of the flight board, and more. The more you have, the better.
  • Ask why you’re being denied boarding and ask for the reason in writing. Overbooking can also be called being bumped from a flight.
  • Stay calm and ask for a new flight. Try not to get upset with the airport personnel. They didn’t overbook the flight, and you catch more flies with honey. They will be more likely to work with you if you are kind.
  • Request compensation for your denied boarding after the new reservation is complete. Under EC 261, they should pay you out at the airport without delay.
  • Request accommodations if necessary. If your delay is long enough, they are required to provide you with meals, drinks, accommodation, communication, and more.

After you arrive at your destination, check if you are eligible for additional compensation under EC 261 or other US laws.

How to File a Claim?

It’s great if you received your compensation at their airport, but you can always check if you are eligible for additional compensation. You can do this yourself by filing a claim directly with the airline or working with a specialized company to advocate for you. There are pros and cons to both. It just depends on how much time and patience you have.

If you file yourself, you’ll need to gather your documentation and work directly with the airline. They will review your claim and let you know if they accept it or not. Be warned that airlines don’t want to pay out, so they may deny your claim. You can file an appeal and submit additional documentation if needed. IF you make yourself a nuisance, they may settle.

You can also work with specialized companies. These individuals are well versed in flight compensation law, so they know how to get your claim paid out. To work with one, you simply visit their website and fill out a few simple questions. Submit your qualifying documentation and wait. If they accept your case, they believe that they will win. Most companies do not get paid unless you win, as they take their fee off the top of your payout. Some companies will charge additional fees if they have to take your case to trial. The more complex your case is, the better it is to work with a specialist to get the support you need.

Conclusion

Overbooking can be a huge headache, but you can get compensation for your troubles. File a claim at the airport with their airline immediately or after the face. Many airlines face steep consequences for overbooking, so they do what they can to avoid taking responsibility.