Getting Compensation for Denied Boarding

With the holiday season, air travel is solidly booked, and some passengers will have disruptions in their travel plans because of routine airline overbooking. To maximize sales, airlines will sell more seats than they have available, with the knowledge that there’s a good chance some people won’t make it to the airport for their flight, misconnect, or otherwise won’t make their flight. This increases the chance that airplanes fly full, which increases airline revenue. Sometimes, their risk calculations are off, and there are more people wanting to fly than there are seats available. This means that the flight is “overbooked.” This article will explain what your options are if you’re departing from Canada on a Canadian airline, for both domestic and international itineraries.

When a flight is overbooked, the airline will first seek out volunteers to take a later flight with some sort of compensation. This is called voluntary denied boarding (VDB). However, sometimes the airline won’t find enough volunteers, so they will have to deny boarding to a non-volunteer. This is called involuntary denied boarding (IDB), also known as being ‘bumped.’ Each scenario will create a different outcome.

Voluntary Denied Boarding

If the flight is overbooked, the gate agent will make an announcement that they’re looking for volunteers. Rarely, you might be asked to volunteer at check-in, or you might even get a phone call prior to your day of departure asking.

The airline will offer to rebook you on a different flight, in the same class of service or a different one. They will accommodate you in a hotel if necessary, and may offer meal vouchers. They will offer some compensation, usually a voucher for an amount off a future flight with the airline. The airline will typically start with their lowest offer, and as they become more desperate, increase that offer.

When negotiating for VDB compensation, try to convince the airline to put you on the flight of a different airline if that’s more convenient. Despite what the agent might say, the airline is perfectly able to transfer your ticket over to a different airline. Further, don’t accept a VDB until the exact offer is explained in detail, including flight information. I have been in situations where I forget to confirm the new flight details, and the outcome after my flight left was unacceptable to me.

Involuntary Denied Boarding

If the airline can’t find enough volunteers, they will have to IDB passengers. When you’re denied boarding, a number of rights are triggered.

First, the airline has to accommodate you on the earliest available flight. If there’s an available flight on another airline, you can ask to be accommodated with them. Typically if the delay will result in an overnight stay, the airline will put you in a hotel.

The Air Canada denied boarding tariff provision provides for cash/bank draft compensation, even if they rebook you on a flight that leaves immediately after your original flight. If you IDB, you are owed money. The longer it takes the airline to get you to your destination, the more money they will owe you.

The airline might offer you airline vouchers instead. They may be at equal or higher value than your cash compensation owed. If you accept the voucher, you waive your right to cash compensation. The only situation I would accept a voucher instead of cash is if it’s of significantly more value than the cash compensation owed. If the airline is stubborn and tries not to give you your compensation, refer them to the relevant provision in their tariff. For Air Canada, that provision is found in s.90 of the International Tariff.

Here are some examples, from the Air Canada International Tariff, of the cash compensation owed for IDB:

Travelling from Canada to North America, including the Caribbean:

Delay of 0-2 Hours: $200CAD

Delay of 2-6 Hours: $400CAD

Delay of over 6 Hours: $800CAD

Travelling from Canada to all other destination:

Delay of 0-4 Hours: $400CAD

Delay of over 4 hours: $800CAD

The Air Canada domestic tariff (rule 245AC “Denied Boarding Compensation”) explains compensation for denied boarding for Canadian domestic flights. It’s similar to the denied boarding provisions for international flights:

Canadian Domestic Flights

Delay of 0-2 Hours: $200CAD

Delay of 2-6 Hours: $400CAD

Delay of over 6 Hours: $800CAD

Note that you are not eligible for denied boarding compensation if: (a) the aircraft that you were booked on had 60 or fewer seats, and (b) you were denied boarding because of weight/balance reasons. You will also be ineligible for denied boarding compensating if the reason is that the aircraft type was switched, the new aircraft has fewer seats, the switch was done for operational or safety reasons, and it was impossible for the airline to avoid the change in aircraft.

The airline typically will give you compensation at the airport. Air Canada tariff provision s.90(E)(5)(a) states: “Compensation will be offered to the passenger on the day and at the place where the denied boarding occurs unless circumstances prevent the offer to be made or where alternate transportation departs before the offer can be made in which case it shall be made by mail or other means after the time the failure to accommodate has occurred.” That is, unless the airline gets you out quickly after you’re being denied boarding and there’s no time to give you payment (in which case it will be mailed to you after contacting the airline), you can demand your compensation on the spot.

Conclusion

It sucks to be VDB or IDB if your travel plans aren’t flexible. However, you can get significant compensation for your inconvenience. Always refer to the relevant tariff provisions for denied boarding if the airline isn’t being cooperative with you. Also, look at any insurance benefits you might have, which could cover other costs associated with denied boarding.

Comments

  1. Excellent post, thank you. In a situation when you are flying an awards flight, is there substance to the belief that awards flyers are the first to get ‘bumped,’ and if so, how does the compensation work from a financial perspective? Refund miles, cash, etc?

    • There is a complex priority list for those who get bumped, however, it tends to rest on the last person to check in. I don’t believe price (i.e. 0 for award ticket) tends to come up for this calculation unless it gets really tight (ie. last person to check is a top-tier elite, so we won’t bump them. The next five people are “second top-tier elites”, so instead of going by last person to check in, they might look at cost of ticket, etc.). I don’t know this for sure though – just some conversations I’ve had, and I could be totally wrong.

      For award ticket compensation, you’re equally entitled to IDB compensation as paid tickets. If the compensation works on a “% of price paid” scheme, which some countries use, my understanding is that compensation will be based on lowest fare available for your class of service. So if you have an award ticket in first class for which the lowest paid ticket is $5000, you would be entitled to compensation based on that number. Of course I can’t speak broadly to every compensation scheme, but that’s my understanding for a number of them.

      • Just looked to the Air Canada Intl Tariff. It says

        s.90(C) Boarding Priorities

        “(2) Passenger with confirmed reservation, will be permitted to board in the following order until all available seats are occupied:

        (a) Disabled passengers, unaccompanied children under 12 years of age and others for whom, in AC’s assessment, failure to carry would cause severe hardship.
        (b) Passengers paying Executive (J cabin), or Premium Economy (O cabin)
        (c) All other passengers, based on itinerary, fare paid status of loyalty program membership and the time in which the passenger presents herself for check in without advance seat assignment.”

        So I was wrong – check in time is the last consideration, while fare paid is higher up. So yes, if you’re on an award ticket, it seems as though you may be more likely to be denied boarding. Learn something new every day!!

  2. Hi Avery,

    I had a delay in Chicago twice before. The first time was the system issue with AA and the second time was the fire incident. Am I allow to have compensations for both incident?

    Jack

    • For the computer incident, was it just you that was denied boarding? If so, you might have a claim. For fire, I suspect that falls into an extraordinary circumstances/flight safety exception.

  3. I was involuntarily denied boarding from Toronto to tamp. Instead of flying me to Tampa, air canada put me on a flight to Orlando, which is 2 hours away from Tampa. They did give me 400 for denied boarding. Since I had to rent a car to get me from Orlando to Tampa, I tried to get air canada to pay for it, but the customer rep said, since I took the 400, they are no longer responsible for ground transportAtion. My beef is I paid for a flight to Tampa, since they only flew me to Orlando, I think they are also responsible for getting me to my original destination.

  4. Air Canada is the worst airline I have ever flown. I was denied boarding in Toronto to the flight to Tokyo and was forced out into Canada in a blizzard with no winter clothes. There was also a power blackout in Toronto. What are my options? I was even told I may be bumped on my return flight to the US. Am I allowed to request to change Airlines? Thank you for all the help!!

    • Assuming you were denied boarding over 4 hours, and you were denied because of an oversold situation, you may be eligible for $800CAD in compensation. In these situations, AC would have also accommodated you in a hotel.

      I don’t know why you were told you may be bumped on the return. Denied boarding usually happens last minute, so I don’t see why they’d tell you that. If you want more help from me, you’ll have to provide me with more particulars.

  5. On 24 august we have boking return fly from Manchester to Toronto 15 September from Toronto to Manchester. We will going to Toronto for holiday. Check officer tell just can’t boarding the fly no give any reason why no explain reason why we can’t boarding.

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