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Know your rights as an airline passenger

FILE - This July 17, 2015, file photo shows the tails of four American Airlines passenger planes parked at Miami International Airport, in Miami. On Tuesday, March 14, 2017, American said it will offer free meals to everyone in economy on certain cross-country flights starting May 1, 2017. The decision at the world's biggest airline copies Delta Air Lines, which announced a month earlier that it would restore free meals in economy on a dozen long-haul U.S. routes in spring 2017. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

WASHINGTON — A video of a passenger being dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight Sunday at O’Hare Airport in Chicago has gone viral.

But this incident brings up the issue of passenger rights: Do you know your rights if your flight is overbooked and you get bumped?

Overbooking is a common practice among airlines, and it is legal. It is used to fill the seat left vacant by passengers who don’t show up for flights.

First, airlines will generally offer some sweet incentives to try to entice passengers to give up their seats willingly on an overbooked flight. If your schedule is flexible and you don’t mind giving up your seat, it’s a good time to negotiate with the airlines. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. So ask for the bigger and better deal. But make sure you know when the freebies, such as future airline tickets, expire.

But if the airline cannot get volunteers to get off the overbooked flight, then it can bump passengers from the flight, the U.S. Department of Transportation says.

There is no set standard for bumping passengers from a flight. The federal government leaves it up to each airline. Some airlines go after the lowest-paying customers first, while other airlines bump the person who checked in last for the flight.

If a person is bumped from their flight and it takes more than an hour to get to his original destination, that person must be compensated, the Department of Transportation says. There is no compensation for those who are bumped involuntarily and arrive at their destinations within an hour of their originally scheduled arrival times.


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