What to do if you get bumped by an airline

Videos of a United Airlines passenger being dragged from his seat have caught the world's attention and may have you wondering what are your rights if you are involuntarily bumped from a flight.

Many airlines overbook and it is not illegal, according to the Department of Transportation Fly Rights website.

But, before a passenger is bumped the DOT requires the airline seek out people willing to give up their seat for compensation. This usually happens at check-in or before boarding.

If you have some time on your hands and want to take advantage of the offer the DOT offers some guidance for those who voluntarily take a bump.

How much compensation is not mandated by DOT. Individual carriers can negotiate with passengers. If you get a free ticket or voucher, ask if there are any restrictions for its use such as blackout dates or if it is only good on domestic flights.

Ask if there is a confirmed seat on the alternate flight. If the airline has only standby seats, you could end up stranded. Also ask about free meals, a hotel room, transfers between the hotel and airport and a phone card so you don't end up spending that cash offer while waiting for the next flight.

If you are involuntarily bumped from a flight, airlines are required to give passengers a written statement with their rights.

In a nutshell, you are entitled to compensation in the form of a check or cash but there are conditions and some exceptions. 

How much you are compensated will depend on your original ticket price. You also must have a confirmed reservation and meet the airlines check-in deadlines. If you miss the deadline you may have lost your reservation and right to compensation.

So, get to the airport early. Airlines may bump passengers who are last to check in or those who have the lowest fares.

If you are involuntarily bumped but the airline can get you to your destination within an hour of your scheduled arrival, you are not entitled to compensation.

If the arrival is within one to two hours of your original schedule on domestic flights and two to four hours on international flights, the airline must pay an amount equal to 200 percent of your one-way fare, up to $675.

If the flight is more than two hours later on a domestic flight or four hours on an international flight, the compensation doubles – 400 percent of one-way fare with a maximum amount of $1,350.

If there is no fare listed on the ticket, the compensation is on the lowest payment charged for a ticket in the same class. 

You are always allowed to keep the original ticket to be used on another flight. If you paid for additional services on the original flight such as seat selection, luggage fees and had to pay up again on the second flight, the airline must refund those payments.

If the airline substitutes a smaller plane, the airline isn't required to pay for those people who are bumped.

If the airline is using a plane with 30 to 60 passengers, compensation is not required if the involuntary bumping is for safety-related issues such as aircraft weight or balance.

If you are traveling on a plane with fewer than 30 passengers, or a charter, the rules don't apply.

They also don't apply to international flights traveling inbound to the United States, although some foreign airlines may voluntarily follow these rules. 

The European Commission has its own bumping rules. Best to check with your airline before you travel.