Denied boarding on overbooked flight - now wish to be pampered by airline. Advice?
October 19, 2008 8:48 PM   Subscribe

I got bumped from a US Air flight (involuntarily) after the gate agent made an error and let *all* the bump volunteers board. How can I get US Air to go above and beyond their default offer?

I paid big money (> $1200) for the flight (round trip cross-country US flight)

The e-ticket did not have me in an assigned seat on the second leg of my return (PHL->SFO), even though I chose seats when booking (through Orbitz).

Long story short. US Air overbooked the flight from PHL to SFO and bumped me involuntarily.

The twist? The gate agent had called for volunteers to be bumped, and then at final boarding let all of the board. She told them she didn't need them and that they would be flying!

she had some newbie assistant who I think miscounted the passengers who boarded

This was the last flight of the day, so US Air booked me on their first flight the next morning.

I want more than a $200 flight voucher and a meal coupon.

More specifically, I'd like advice on the following (the more detailed and specific, the better. I'm exhausted, my flight's early tomorrow).

- what's the best strategy to get an upgrade to first class on my flight tomorrow morning?

- they failed to use their bump volunteers. How can I get them to make good on this error? what, if anything, should I ask for?

- is there a best way to contact US Air about this? A specific number would be great. If it helps, I'm in their frequent flier program. US Air's website has contradictory info about where to call / email for a flight that *was* yesterday but is now tomorrow.

Thank you, all. I am so tired and cranky, but promise to be nice to all the US Air employees I talk to.
posted by zippy to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: US Airways's terms of transportation say:
US Airways will offer one of the following types of compensation to customers denied boarding involuntarily on flights within the continental United States:
  • A transferable voucher for one free roundtrip coach class ticket on US Airways within the continental United States, or,
  • Cash compensation in the amount of 200% of the sum of the values of the customer’s remaining flight coupons of the ticket to the customer’s next stopover, or if none, to his/her destination, but not more than $800.00. However, the compensation shall be 50% of the amount described above, but not more than $400.00, if US Airways arranges for comparable air transportation, or for other transportation acceptable to the customer, scheduled to arrive not later than two hours after the planned arrival, at the airport of the customer’s next stopover, or at the airport of the customer’s destination of the flight on which the customer holds a confirmed reservation.
Certain restrictions may apply to these tickets, which are disclosed in materials available from US Airways agents and on the US Airways web site
Insist on the cash. Do not take anything else, especially their ridiculous "free flight" which you will probably have a lot of trouble using. If you can't get satisfaction on the phone, just write a letter. If that doesn't get results, write a letter to the Secretary of Transportation and CC it to them.

Personally, I would not get into the wherefores and specifics of why you were incorrectly IDB. It only matters that you were, and are owed this cash.

Beware accepting lesser or other offers which might be seen as a settlement.
posted by grouse at 8:59 PM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Urk. They only offered me a voucher - they did not mention cash - and I now have a 'free flight' voucher ($200). How can I click undo on this?
posted by zippy at 9:22 PM on October 19, 2008

Best answer: I doubt you can. Ask on the US Airways board on Flyertalk for an expert opinion.
posted by grouse at 9:31 PM on October 19, 2008

Best answer: Philadelphia is a USAir hub, so they probably have some sort of customer service desk at the airport. You may want to try the following:

- Show up early for your flight and go to the customer service desk.

- Explain the situation, and indicate that you are not satisfied with the $200 voucher.

- Figure out exactly what you want ahead of time (and arm yourself with grouse's suggestions), and ask for it.

- Be respectful, polite, courteous, but firm throughout. Do not get angry or exasperated at the customer service reps; make them your allies, not your enemies.
posted by googly at 9:34 PM on October 19, 2008

Best answer: I concur with asking on Flyertalk for an expert opinion - they're quite good at these sorts of things.

Did you sign anything to accept that voucher? If you did, you probably are out of luck. You were voluntarily denied boarding and your signature makes it voluntary. It's a common trick gate agents play to reduce involuntarily denied boarding situations.

Now, if you want to play this out for further compensation, be prepared for more trouble than you ever would have expected to get any money out of US Air. I think it's possible, but it will require multiple complaints to the Department of Transportation and threats of lawsuits and the like. Be prepared for the airline to outright lie, ignore you, and slander you to avoid paying out money. Full disclaimer: I have never successfully obtained monetary compensation (even legally mandated compensation) from an airline. The best I've done is large vouchers. Fortunately, I have a use for them.

However, if you do want to play this out, the relevant legal authority is Title 14, Section 250.5 of the Code of Federal Regulations. If you were really IDBed, which is only the case if you signed absolutely nothing stating otherwise, you were not informed of the cash alternative and are due $800. That's the only way you'll get any money.

Good luck and report how well this ends up!
posted by saeculorum at 9:37 PM on October 19, 2008

Response by poster: Yes, I signed something. When I asked the gate agent what it meant (mentioning that my r/t was $1200+ and the voucher was only $200) she did some sort of user car salesman mind trick on me and told me that what I was signing didn't limit my compensation.

I hate getting screwed over.

I have her name, and I really hope she's working the morning shift when I arrive tomorrow.
posted by zippy at 9:56 PM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This US Airways page on being involuntarily denied boarding says something interesting:

All reservations ... are subject to cancellation without notice if the following occurs:

1. The passenger has not purchased a validated ticket indicating confirmed seat(s)
(emphasis mine) at least thirty (30) minutes prior to scheduled departure of the flight, or earlier if a greater time limit is specified.

Does this mean I was on shaky ground from the start, as my ticket did not show a specific seat assignment? I had purchased the ticket several days in advance, but the boarding pass never showed a seat number.
posted by zippy at 10:20 PM on October 19, 2008

No. Unless you were a standby passenger, you had a confirmed seat, it just wasn't assigned.
posted by grouse at 10:39 PM on October 19, 2008

Response by poster: Unless you were a standby passenger, you had a confirmed seat, it just wasn't assigned.

Thank you for clearing that up.

I'm normally good at understanding rules arcana, but not in the middle of a trip that went kablooie.
posted by zippy at 10:51 PM on October 19, 2008

Response by poster: Update: Just got to the airport for my morning return. The US Air ticket desk manager looked like me like I was insane when I (politely) asked if he could upgrade my return flight.

Thanks for the advice, everyone. For reference, here's what I found:

- getting worked up over this doesn't do me any good

- US Air does not view you as a customer once they've bumped you. You're now a liability.

- US Air bumps a lot of people, and no one I talked to got anything besides vouchers.

- don't sign anything and maybe your chances will be better than mine. Can't hurt, anyway.

- a $5 breakfast voucher is good for a smoothie at the airport. Mmm, smoothie.
posted by zippy at 3:12 AM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Most airlines (Delta for sure...) have a "short bump" worth $200 in compensation and provide $400 for a bump longer than 4 (or 6?) hours. ... Weird that getting stranded overnight, even voluntarily, doesn't net you more.
posted by zpousman at 7:20 AM on October 20, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, my take on it is that US Air pushes things further than most in trying to fill up their planes while minimizing expenses (not running more planes, not doing much for customers when things go wrong).
posted by zippy at 3:43 PM on October 20, 2008

Response by poster: Just wanted to let you know how this worked out. US Air customer service, at all points, would not budge on this. They ranged from not-gonna-help to surly. If I were in this situation again, I would say that the only point that I had any leverage was at the gate at the moment I was denied boarding. Had I not signed anything then, I would have been in a much stronger position, I think.

After that point, nothing short of contesting the credit card charges or going to court would make US Air budge, despite all the regulations and US Air printed materials to the contrary.
posted by zippy at 6:05 PM on November 26, 2008

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