US carrier Delta Air Lines has been slugged with a US$750,000 fine for moving passengers off overbooked flights without offering compensation.
It’s the second time US Transportation Department has fined the Virgin Australia partner for this practice, following a US$375,000 penalty issued in 2009 for similar violations.
Like most domestic US airlines Delta sells more tickets than it has seats on certain flights, knowing that for a variety of reasons a certain percentage of travellers won’t turn up.
However, when the numbers run against those historical predictions and a flight suddenly has more passengers than seats, airlines typically ask for volunteers willing to be bumped onto the next flight – usually by offering inducements ranging from frequent flyer points and business class upgrades to travel credit vouchers.
But if no travellers volunteer the airline itself has to choose who gets bumped and provide cash compensation accordingly – at up to 400% greater than your one-way fare (to a $1,300 maximum).
Delta broke the rules on both counts, says the Transportation Department: failing to call first for volunteers, and then not offering any compensation to those who drew the short straw.
The Transportation Department reviewed over 300 complaints about how Delta handled overbookings between November 2010 and January 2012.
After investigation, it says it found several cases where Delta not only failed to inform bumped passengers about their rights to compensation but also classified some passengers bumped involuntarily as having chosen to give up their seats.
Delta maintains these were isolated incidents and that employees are now being trained on how to handle overbooked flights. The airline also plans to issue tablet computers to gate staff to help manage passenger offloads from overbooked flights.
What’s your experience with being bumped off flights, and what compensation have you received?
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About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.