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Four Things to Do if You Are Forced Off a Plane

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by Dixon Law Office

The video of the man being pulled off an airplane earlier this month is hard to watch.  He is screaming, bloodied and obviously traumatized.  People are left asking “can airlines bump people off a flight?” and “if they do, what can I do about it?”

Why does this happen?

In a word, greed.  Airlines want to make as much profit as they can.  That means, with every flight, they want every seat full.  But they also know that some people will not show up even if they have bought and paid for a seat.  So the airlines often “oversell” a flight.  They do this, betting that some people won’t show up.

Overselling is a big way for airlines to make money on popular routes.  If a plane has 300 seats, they can sell 330 seats for that flight, making a lot more money for the same flight.  It works great as long as the number of people they assume will not show up, don’t.  However, overselling causes problems when people actually show up for the flight they booked.  When they oversell the flight, they must remove some of the people from the plane.  This is called “bumping.”

How do they chose who gets bumped?

Most airlines follow a similar method in removing or bumping passengers off the plane.  First, the airlines will make offers to passengers to entice them to take another flight.  These offers can be cash but are usually given in the form of travel vouchers.  The amount of the offer can be any amount the airlines wants to offer.  Offers as high as $10,000 have been given in some circumstances.

If they cannot get someone to take the offer (or not enough), then the airlines most airlines get aggressive.  Legally, the ticket is an agreement between you and the airlines.  However, that ticket almost always has restrictions and limitations on it.  Airlines argue that they can bump anyone off, any time they want.  The airlines typically will bump people who are not frequent fliers, check in late, travel alone, don’t have connections, and many more factors.

In some cases, if no one takes the offer to get bumped, some airlines will “randomly” pick a name and force that person off.  That is what supposedly happened in the famous United Airlines bumping incident.

Why Do Airlines Do This?

Greed. There is that word again.  Airlines create the problem by overbooking.  Airlines can solve the problem by offering you enough money to make you want to get off voluntarily.  If they offered you $1,000,000 to get off the plane, everyone would love to get off the flight.  But airlines don’t want to do that because that would cost them money.  Airlines create a problem by overbooking and then refuse to pay enough money to fix it.  That is not right.

What Are My Rights if I am Bumped?

Most airlines can remove you from a flight based on the ticket agreement.  The agreement is a document you agree to.  It is huge, usually more than 50 pages.  You never read it.  You never even see it.  Yet the airlines claim you must follow those rules.  Those rules allow them to bump you off any flight for any reason or no reason.

You still have rights.  Federal law requires the airlines to do lots of things and most airlines will do things to help make the “bumping” less difficult.  For example, the airlines has to get you to where you want to go.  Often it is on the next flight out.  If that flight is not until the next day (or longer), the airlines should pay for your hotel, transportation and meals.  Sometimes they will compensate you for your time beyond these expenses.

What About My Safety?

Airlines must protect you from harm at all times.  They are common carriers.  That means they must do the best there is to protect you from harm.  They cannot do anything to injure you or cause you any physical harm.  If they ask others to remove you from the plane, the airlines are liable if you are harmed by them.

What Do I Do if I am Forced Off?

If you are asked to be bumped, you don’t have to accept.  But if you are forced off, there are things you can do to protect yourself

1. Explain why it cannot be you.

If you are asked to be bumped, explain to the people who are doing it (usually flight attendants), why you cannot be bumped.  Perhaps you have a connection you will miss.  Maybe you are going out of town for a funeral, wedding, or some other event that cannot be rescheduled.  Maybe you are traveling with your family and bumping you will separate the family.

If you are traveling for business, make sure the staff know that.  Your losses are likely much more than just the time. Perhaps you will miss a meeting at which you are presenting?  Maybe you are closing a sale and must be there.   Whatever it is, make sure the people you are speaking with know that you’re not just going for no reason.

Also be sure the staff knows that this will cost you far more than the cost of a ticket if that is true.  Some of these harms cannot be fixed. Make sure all staff clearly knows that the injury they are causing is far greater than just a plane ticket.

2. Ask to speak with supervisor, supervisor, supervisor.

If you are told you still must be bumped, ask to speak with a supervisor.  If he/she does not help, speak with his/her supervisor.  Keep asking for supervisors and keep pleading your case.  No matter what they tell you, the staff has discretion and can decide to take someone else.

3.  Document everything.

The most important thing is to document everything.  Get your cell phone out and start recording.  Ask the guy in the seat next to you, across the aisle, friends, family, everyone to start videotaping.  You need to know names of the people you are speaking with and your titles.  You need to know the exact reason why they are bumping you (or anyone).  Make it clear that you are not agreeing to the bumping and that this is costing you time, money and irreplaceable memories

4. Contact a lawyer

If all this fails and you do get bumped, contact an experienced trial lawyer like those at Dixon Law Office.  They can force the airlines to fully and fairly compensate you for all you have been through and make it right.

If you or a loved one has suffered injury or harm because of an airline, staff, or even getting bumped, Dixon Law Office can help.  We have over 25 years of experience helping people get the compensation they deserve when big companies try and take advantage of them.  Call us today at 888-354-9880 or go to

When everything goes wrong, we make it right.

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