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United Airlines has been in the news almost non-stop since last weekend when a passenger was brutalized while being removed from a United flight.

The man was one of four people who were allegedly randomly chosen to be removed when no one volunteered to give up their seats. Airlines often overbook with the idea that not everyone will show up for any given flight.

Every year, some 50-thousand people with tickets will be bumped from a flight that has been overbooked by an airline. But why do these air carriers overbook, and what are your rights should you get bumped?

We’ll use United Airline’s contract of carriage since they are the airline in question, but most airlines have similar contracts. The United contract states that passengers who must be removed from a flight in the event of overbooking will be “determined based on a passenger’s fare class, itinerary, status of frequent flier program membership, and the time at which they checked in for the flight.”

This means that if you have a certain type of fare class, have checked in early, or are a frequent flyer, you are less likely to get bumped. If you take advantage of budget seats – you are more likely to be bumped when no one else volunteers.

In normal circumstances, if a flight was overbooked by four seats, the last four people to check in or arrive at the gate would be bumped. These passengers should be compensated and given alternative flights.

Overbooking happens all the time, and as a passenger, you are legally required to leave the plane if you are asked to do so. Passengers who agree to leave are entitled to a refund or reroute, as well as benefits, which may differ from airline to airline.

If there are not enough volunteers, you may have the same entitlement to assistance and compensation as if your flight was cancelled, the only difference being that you are entitled to such compensation immediately.

Getting bumped can surely ruin your day, but you can also benefit from being bumped by racking up airline vouchers and flying free. This happened to a Delta passenger recently; he ended up with $10-thousand in vouchers simply by agreeing to be bumped from several overbooked flights.

If you have legal questions, please consult our Online Legal Directory to find an attorney in your area.

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