A crewmember just ordered me off the plane. Do I have to obey?

United Airlines has been in the news a lot lately and the stories have been disturbing. It’s been so disturbing to reader Janis Dolnick, who has two upcoming flights booked on United, that she wrote to us to ask what rights she has, if any, should she be asked to leave a flight.

It’s a question I wish no one needed to ask, but knowing what responsibility you have to comply if a crewmember asks you to leave a flight you’ve already boarded could save you from more than a late arrival at your destination.

According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the number of passengers bumped off flights reached its peak in 1998 and steadily declined until 2014. It climbed back to 515,000 passengers in 2015 (statistics for 2016 have not been added to the table), which is approximately 9 percent of the number of total passengers boarded.

Although some may find this surprising, the DOT does not consider it illegal to overbook a flight:

Overbooking is not illegal, and most airlines overbook their scheduled flights to a certain extent in order to compensate for “no-shows.” Passengers are sometimes left behind or “bumped” as a result. When an oversale occurs, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to ask people who aren’t in a hurry to give up their seats voluntarily, in exchange for compensation. Those passengers bumped against their will are, with a few exceptions, entitled to compensation.

These exceptions include:

  • not complying with the airline’s ticketing or check-in policies;
  • the flight is canceled;
  • the equipment was changed to a smaller aircraft;
  • the aircraft has 60 or fewer seats and the removal of passengers was necessary for weight and balance restrictions;
  • your alternate flight arrives less than one hour after your original flight;
  • you are accommodated in a higher class of service than your original flight.

There are other reasons that you could be asked to leave a plane you have already boarded without being compensated, including:

  • government requisition of space;
  • your refusal to carry identification or submit to person or property search;
  • you appear to be drunk or otherwise impaired;
  • you are clothed in a manner that would be offensive to other passengers;
  • you are barefoot;
  • you refuse to obey a member of the flight crew;
  • your conduct is disorderly, abusive, or violent;
  • you attempt to interfere with any member of the flight crew;
  • or you do something to jeopardize the safety of the aircraft or others on board.

Keep in mind that if you are asked to leave a plane for most of the above reasons you could be arrested.

Each airline is allowed to set its own rules for boarding priority as well as for deciding which passengers would be involuntarily bumped. But the DOT does mandate that the airline must first try to incentivize guests to voluntarily give up their seats. It also sets rules on the minimum amount of compensation a guest must receive if he is bumped:

  • If you arrive at your destination within one hour of your original arrival time, no compensation is given.
  • If you arrive at your destination one to two hours after your original arrival time, you’re entitled to 200% of your one-way fare, with a $675 maximum.
  • If you arrive at your destination more than two hours later, the compensation doubles to a maximum of $1,350.

Each domestic carrier has its own set of rules for boarding and for bumping passengers, and most airlines include the “elite members” of its frequent flier program, but prior to the recent incident, only American Airlines promised not to remove a passenger who has already boarded the plane.

In the days following the United incident at O’Hare in April, Delta Airlines increased the amount of compensation its airport staff is allowed to offer to $10,000 in order to ensure its passengers are willing to give up their seats voluntarily. United Airlines announced that employees must be booked at least 60 minutes prior to boarding, and that it will no longer remove passengers from the plane after they have boarded.

Not surprisingly, United’s list of reasons to remove a passenger from a flight is significantly longer than those of the other airlines.

The short answer to Dolnick’s question is this: If you’ve committed any of the offenses that the DOT has outlined for removing people from a flight, the answer is yes, you should immediately disembark.

If this is merely an overbooking situation and you can’t be late getting to your destination, immediately tell the gate agent. He or she should be able to put you at the bottom of the potential “bump list” if you have a valid reason (“I have to get back to my cats” isn’t a valid reason, but “I have patients to see tomorrow” should be). If you’ve already boarded the plane, you may refuse and give a reason why, but you may also find yourself confronted by airport security.

Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.