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What is an airline's liability if they cannot provide a seat for a person with a confirmed ticket?
If an airline cannot provide a seat for a ticketed passenger who arrives at the gate in a timely manner (airline regulations vary on the time, which ranges from 10 to 90 minutes), the airline has several options. There are two types of "bumping": voluntary and involuntary.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that airlines ask passengers to volunteer their seats in exchange for some form of compensation. This compensation is not regulated; it is left up to negotiation between the gate attendants, who have guidelines from the airline, and passengers. TRAVEL RIGHTS contains questions passengers should ask before accepting compensation and also gives travelers an idea of what to expect.

The DOT becomes involved when not enough passengers volunteer and some travelers must be involuntarily bumped. The DOT requires each airline to give all passengers who are involuntarily bumped a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn't. Those travelers who don't get to fly are frequently entitled to an on-the-spot payment. The amount depends on the price of their ticket and the length of the delay.

Passengers involuntarily bumped may keep their original tickets, which they can use at a future date or have refunded. Rules differ for international flights and for flights overseas. You can learn more about consumer airline passenger rights by contacting the Aviation Consumer Protection Division, U.S. Department of Transportation, C-75 Room 4107, Washington DC 20590. Or, you can visit the consumer information section at the DOT's Go to the DOT Web site.

Airlines are required to make all best efforts to fly you to your destination in the timeliest manner possible. If the delay between the flight from which you were bumped and the replacement flight is less than one hour, no compensation is offered. For a delay of one to two hours, the airline is responsible for the equivalent of the one-way fare up to $200. This amount is doubled when the substitute flight delay is greater than two hours or if substitute travel arrangements have not been made, which may not always be possible. The airline is not required by law to provide food or lodging during the layover. Some do so, but others may only assist when asked. Asking is the most important thing to learn to do well. If getting bumped is a concern, there are several steps you can take to minimize your risk. The most effective, of course, is to arrive early.

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Airline Safety and Travel Complaints
How complaints are handled
The Aviation Consumer Protection Division (ACPD) operates a complaint handling system for consumers who experience air travel service problems. Consumers with concerns about airline safety should call the Federal Aviation Administration toll-free at 1-800-255-1111. Consumers with concerns about aviation security should register their comments with the Transportation Security Administration at

Consumers can call, write or e-mail the ACPD to register their concerns about airline service. You may call the ACPD 24 hours each day at 202-366-2220 (TTY 202-366-0511) to record your complaint. Calls are returned Monday through Friday, generally between 7:30 am and 5:00 pm Eastern time. Letters and e-mails will be reviewed and acknowledged and will be forwarded to an airline official for further consideration. Our mailing address is:

Aviation Consumer Protection Division, C-75
U.S. Department of Transportation
400 7th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590

Our e-mail address is

Whether you call, write or e-mail, please be brief and concise in the description of your problem and be sure to include the following information:


If you write, you should also include a copy of your airline ticket (not the original) and any correspondence you have already exchanged with the company.

If your complaint concerns accessibility problems experienced by a passenger with a disability, or alleged discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion or ancestry, please click here for information on where to file your complaint. If you determine from that document that your complaint should be filed here with DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division, use the link in that page or your browser’s “Back” button to return to this page.

If you are filing an accessibility or discrimination complaint with us, we have optional complaint forms for these two types of complaints that you may download and/or print if you wish. Complaints of this type may be filed on the appropriate form, or by letter or e-mail. Click here for additional information about filing a complaint about accessibility problems with an airline that were experienced by a passenger with a disability. Click here for additional information about filing a complaint about alleged discrimination by airlines based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion or ancestry.

All complaints are entered in DOT's computerized aviation industry monitoring system, and are charged to the company in question in the monthly Air Travel Consumer Report. This report is distributed to the industry and made available to the news media and the general public so that consumers and air travel companies can compare the complaint records of individual airlines and tour operators. These complaints are reviewed to determine the extent to which carriers are in compliance with federal aviation consumer protection regulations. This system also serves as a basis for rulemaking, legislation and research.

The Department of Transportation produces an annual Report to Congress summarizing complaints that air carriers receive about disability-related issues. Click here to see this report.

The ACPD publishes a number of booklets and fact sheets on air travel consumer protection issues.

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