That one time was pure luck; won’t happen again. Then it does. You fumble, stumble and faceplant. This is true for so many things in life but today I want to talk about Voluntary Bumping.

What is Bumping?

Simply put – Airlines overbook a flight to compensate for the no shows and last minute cancellations, but everyone shows up at the gate. The airline has two options, see if there are volunteers who could take the next flight OR involuntarily bump a few passengers. In both cases, the airline is supposed to compensate the passenger being “Bumped”.


US Department of Transportation (DOT) has specific guidelines for the amount owed to the passengers for Involuntary Bumping. Compensation in this case can range from simply rebooking on a flight arriving at destination within an hour of original booking to 200% of one way fare or up to 400% of one way fare. For passengers that volunteer to get bumped, DOT does not specify a compensation as such but airlines do negotiate a good price point. It’s in their favor to negotiate a price-point below the 200%-400% of fare if they were to force bump a passenger. Note that foreign carriers operating in US are subject to these regulations as well. Example: Air Canada flight from DEN-YYZ (US-Canada) will have to compensate an involuntary bump under DOT regulations.
Canadian Transport Agency (CTA) on the other hand has compensation guidelines equivalent to my hairline – Non Existent. Airlines can offer you a bag of peanuts for giving up your seat, onus is on the passenger to negotiate a better deal (say a bag of pretzels 😉 )

Hitting the Jackpot $$$

December last year, LGA-DTW-YOW (Delta) it happened for the first time. My DTW-YOW segment was oversold. I just happened to venture around the gate 30 minutes prior to boarding and heard the announcement for 6 volunteers to give up their seats. I was offered $1000 USD (Delta Voucher), like a million CAD equivalent at the time! Well ~$1400 CAD really. The next flight they could confirm me on was the same one, the next day. No worries, I was flexible so asked about the accommodation and food and they promptly confirmed that I would get 3 food vouchers, $15 USD each, night at a hotel and airport transfers. YES PLEASE! Did I mention this was an award ticket to begin with? Yep 🙂


Once I had tasted this lucky break, I should have expected or at least been on a lookout for a repeat, right? Sadly, no.

Fumble, Stumble, Faceplant

YOW-YYZ-DEN: As I check-in, Air Canada (AC) agent tells me that it’s a full flight and I may need to sky check my carry on (only bag) since the Embraer E190 has limited cabin space. I reply, “Hate carrying things on me, can we just check it in all the way to DEN?” – MISTAKE #1. I get to Toronto (YYZ) and run to the lounge for food and some quiet time. By the time I make my way to the gate, 5 minutes before boarding (MISTAKE #2), they have already asked for volunteers to give up their YYZ-DEN seats. I walk up to check if I can still volunteer and hand my boarding pass. Agent – “Yes, we are offering $800 CAD and can put you on the next flight tomorrow morning”. Then the death knell: “Oh, you have a checked bag on the flight, it’s too late to get it out. Sorry”. FML.

MIA-PHL-YOW: Still nursing the after effects of a Bachelor party weekend, I get past security 40 minutes to boarding, but instead of heading for the gate I decide to tuck some tacos. Well past boarding time, I drag my smug Elite status and show up at the gate like I own the place. My headache turned into heartache as I saw the agent handing over $600 USD vouchers to the 4 people who had volunteered their seats. I wanted to blame my heavy head for this lost opportunity but it was simply an amateur travel gaffe.


The lesson learnt here is that overbooking is common practice and bumping is far more common that you imagine. It helps when you are traveling on a flexible schedule and it’s best to equip yourself with as much information about your rights as a passenger. Don’t hesitate to negotiate a confirmed re-booking, cash as opposed to vouchers, hotel and food expense. My advice would be use DOT regulations as a guideline to negotiate even if you were flying non-US carriers.

Other to-do’s:

  • Use a travel app like Expertflyer to keep a tab on flight capacity. Or check with an agent at check-in.
  • If possible, avoid checking in a bag.
  • Show up to the gate well in advance and pay attention to the announcements.
  • A polite walk up to the gate agent informing them that you would volunteer your seat if needed. Don’t be pesky!

Have you ever been bumped or volunteered for the same? What was your compensation?