Missing your connecting flight is not an “involuntary bump”

When Bill Andrews and his wife tried to make their connecting flight to the U.S. in Madrid, they were prevented from boarding. But our advocates can’t help them get reimbursed for the expenses they incurred in changing their flights — for an excellent reason.

Although Andrews claims that an Iberia supervisor told him that his flight was “overbooked,” this wasn’t the actual reason why he and his wife couldn’t fly. The true reason was because they didn’t have enough time between flights to make their connection. Their story is a warning to air passengers with connecting flights to schedule sufficient time between the flights to make their connections.

Andrews and his wife were flying from Vigo, Spain, to Madrid, where they planned to connect to an American Airlines flight to Charlotte, N.C.

According to Andrews, he and his wife were told in Vigo that Iberia could issue boarding passes only to Madrid “because of computer problems.” They would have to request boarding passes in Madrid for their connecting flights.

But when they arrived in Madrid, they were denied boarding passes. An Iberia supervisor told the Andrewses — after keeping them waiting them waiting 30 minutes — that their connecting flight to the U.S. was “overbooked.”

Iberia offered to rebook the Andrewses on a flight leaving the following day, but this proposed solution didn’t work for them. Because Iberia did not offer to help them find alternative flights departing the same day from Madrid, they rebooked their flight to the U.S. on an American Airlines plane that was scheduled to depart that day.

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Andrews asked Iberia to reimburse him for his airfares for the rebooked flights, but when Iberia denied his request for compensation under the European air passenger rights law EU 261, he asked our advocates for assistance.

Iberia’s version of events differs significantly from Andrews’. According to Iberia, his flight was neither overbooked nor delayed. Thus, claims Iberia, the Andrewses were not entitled to compensation.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), an “overbooking” that causes a passenger to be “involuntarily bumped” from a flight must comply with the following:

Each airline has a check-in deadline, which is the amount of time before scheduled departure that you must present yourself to the airline at the airport. For domestic flights most carriers require you to be at the departure gate between 10 minutes and 30 minutes before scheduled departure, but some deadlines can be an hour or longer. Check-in deadlines on international flights can be as much as three hours before scheduled departure time. Some airlines may simply require you to be at the ticket/baggage counter by this time; most, however, require that you get all the way to the boarding area. Some may have deadlines at both locations. If you miss the check-in deadline, you may have lost your reservation and your right to compensation if the flight is oversold.

But the Andrewses weren’t “involuntarily bumped” from their connecting flight because it wasn’t oversold. The true reason for the Andrewses’ inability to board their connecting flight was that their connection time was too tight, leaving them insufficient time to pass through the security points between gates at the Madrid airport.

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Iberia Airlines has a minimum connection time of 45 to 55 minutes at the Madrid airport, requiring passengers to move from their arrival gates through security checkpoints to their departure gates and be checked in for their connecting flights within this amount of time.

Iberia claims that there were additional security procedures in place at the Madrid airport on the day of the Andrewses’ flight. Their connection time of 115 minutes did not allow sufficient time for them to pass through the additional security and arrive at the departure gate for their connecting flight:

However, although we offered you boarding cards for the whole of your journey, special security measures or the need to identify or check luggage in transit required by some airports prevented us from offering this facility.

This is a significant difference from Andrews’ version of events.

Our advocates told Andrews that he might escalate his complaint to Iberia executives using the contact information for Iberia on our website, but we were not going to be able to offer him further assistance.

Andrews asked how he might avoid such a situation in the future, and our advocate responded:

In the future, you should be very careful about connection times from domestic flights to international flights — especially if you aren’t using the same airline for both flights. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to make the connection. Posted minimum connection times are often not sufficient and we receive many complaints quite similar to yours.

We advise all air travelers to follow our advocate’s suggestion and book their flights with sufficient time to make connections.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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