Bumped Off Your Flight? We Explain Your Rights

If you are denied boarding your flight, how much compensation you’re entitled to depends on your particular circumstances. We explain more below

Updated on December 13th, 2018

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In this guide, we’ll explain what your rights are if you’re denied boarding due to overbooking – also known as being ‘bumped’.

You might also have been denied boarding because the aircraft is changed at the last minute for a smaller one that can’t fit all the passengers on.

Or there might not be enough crew available and the number of passengers has to be reduced to meet the legal ratio of crew to passengers.

What is EU Regulation 261/2004

EU Regulation 261/2004 is a set of rules designed to protect air passenger rights when traveling in or out of the EU.

Established in 2005 the regulation obliges airlines to pay financial compensation to passengers experiencing long delays or flight cancellations but was initially devised to prevent the routine practice of airlines overbooking flights.

It also makes airlines responsible for passengers while they are delayed through a ‘care and assistance’ clause, even if the delay is caused by extraordinary circumstances.

The rules that are very clear is if you are denied boarding due to overbooking… This means your airline will have to compensate you

Since its inception, the regulation has been challenged in the highest courts in the UK and Europe on a number of occasions to try and bring clarity to some of the grey areas.

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One element of the rules that are very clear is if you are denied boarding due to overbooking, your rights as a passenger are protected in EU Regulation 261/2004.

This means your airline will have to compensate you. What they owe you in compensation is fixed and determined against a set of criteria.

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Why Are Airlines Oversold

Overbooking is common practice for airlines. They sell more tickets than they have on a flight to make up for the people who won’t turn up to fly. Problems arise when more passengers arrive for a flight than the plane has capacity for.

Airlines allow overbooking based on the historical “no show” rate of the flight in question. They can see from previous flights that a certain number of passengers never end up travelling. If this amount averages at 10% for example, the airline would overbook flights by 10% in order to make more money.

What Happens When A Flight Is Overbooked?

EU 261 (the Denied Boarding Regulation) requires that airlines follow a protocol when there are more passengers than there are seats on a flight. This is to protect passenger rights.

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If there are not enough seats on the flight, airlines must first ask for passengers to volunteer not to fly and wait for the next flight. Airlines would usually offer benefits for those volunteers to encourage someone to step forward. There are no rules around what ‘benefits’ an airline should offer, so these would need to be negotiated, but often include airmiles or travel vouchers.


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If you are not happy to give up your seat, or if you can’t negotiate benefits you’re satisfied with, the airline can deny you boarding. This is called involuntary denied boarding. In this case, you’re entitled to denied boarding compensation for being bumped from the flight.

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  • The length of your delay
  • The cause of your delay
  • Legal validity of claim
  • How much you could claim

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You’ll get the same care and assistance that you would get if your flight was cancelled, and you’re entitled to your compensation straight away.

What Happens If I Volunteer?

If you volunteer not to fly because the airline has overbooked your flight, it’s likely that you’ll be offered a type of compensation, usually in the form of travel vouchers. Airlines typically start with a relatively low incentive and then increase it until someone agrees to give up their seat.

The airline will negotiate a later flight with you. If you take this incentive, you need to be aware that you won’t be due any compensation in the way that you would be if you were involuntarily denied boarding, even if you’re arriving late at your destination.

If the airline cannot give you a satisfactory replacement flight you are entitled to cancel the travel and the airline must then give you a full refund.

While you wait for the later flight (or you may even be rerouted to take a different flight) then the airline should provide you with food and drink in relation to the waiting time. Feel free to negotiate this at the time you volunteer.

Remember that if no-one volunteers, depending on the distance of the flight the airline may have to pay 600 Euros in compensation, so you have plenty of scope to negotiate with the airline if being on time isn’t too important to you.

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If the airline cannot give you a satisfactory replacement flight you are entitled to cancel the travel and the airline must then give you a full refund.

It might not be best not to take the airline’s offer. If someone else takes it then you’re no worse off, and if nobody takes it and you’re denied boarding, you’ll be rerouted and given flight cancellation compensation for your troubles. You need to decide for yourself.

What Should I Do If I Am Denied Boarding?

If you are denied boarding for your flight, then there are a number of steps you should take to ensure you have the best chance of getting the compensation you are owed and the least disruption to your travel plans.

  • Hold on to your boarding pass
  • Ask the reason for being denied boarding
  • Agree an alternate flight that suits you
  • Ask for airport vouchers for food and drink
  • Agree a suitable hotel if the next flight is the following day
  • Keep receipts for any costs you incur
  • Collect or record as much information as you can

Keep your boarding pass and any travel documents you have, as these could be important further down the line.

The airline will probably tell you that you have been denied boarding because the flight was overbooked, but there might be other reasons. It’s important that you know the full story. This will make it easier to make a claim in the future.

If you were involuntarily denied boarding, you have the same rights to compensation that you would have if your flight had been cancelled, and you are due your compensation straight away.

It is likely that the airline will offer you an alternate flight as they are required to under EU Regulation 261/2004. They must offer you a flight that suits your requirements.

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Claiming directly can be time consuming and stressful. Airlines may choose to ignore your claims or say you don’t have a eligible claim when you do.

Save time and money over issuing against airlines yourself and choose us to handle the claim on your behalf.

Under the rules of EU Regulation 261/2004, the airline must provide you with a reasonable amount of food and drink in relation to the waiting time. If they refuse this then pay for these items yourself and then keep your receipts, as you can claim them back later.

If you have to stay overnight, your airline must get you a hotel room. They must also pay for your travel to and from this hotel room. The standard of hotel can be negotiated but if the only remaining rooms nearby are in a five-star hotel, it would likely be considered ‘reasonable’ by the courts for you to stay there.


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Ask the airline staff to confirm in writing that you were involuntarily denied boarding. This will make a compensation claim much easier.

Keep all of your documents, take photos of your arrival time, and make a note of how much care and assistance you are offered. The more information you can provide if you’re making a claim for compensation the better.

How Much Compensation Can I Claim If I Am Denied Boarding?

If you’re denied boarding and you don’t take the airline’s incentive to give up your seat, you’re owed compensation in the same way you would be if your flight was cancelled or delayed.

The compensation amounts vary from 125 Euros to 600 Euros and exactly how much you’re entitled to depends on the following:

  • How far you were travelling
  • The length of the delay (if you were given a replacement flight)
  • That you were taking off or landing in an EU airport
  • If you were landing in an EU airport, it was with an EU airline

Fight Delay Compensation Amounts

Flight DistanceLength Of DelayCompensation Amount
Up to 1,500km3 hours or more€250
1,500km-3,500km3 hours or more€400
Over 3,500km3 hours or more & between 2 EU Member States€400
Over 3,500km3-4 hours€300
Over 3,500km4 hours €600

As well as this compensation, your airline is also required under EU Regulation 261/2004 to provide you with care and assistance if they deny you boarding. They must provide:

  • Two free communications (phone calls, emails or fax)
  • A reasonable amount of food and drink
  • Hotel accommodation if you have to stay overnight
  • Transport to and from that hotel

Get An Instant Decision On Your Flight

Our flight compensation checker is the most accurate on the web. It checks the following instantly.

  • The length of your delay
  • The cause of your delay
  • Legal validity of claim
  • How much you could claim

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If you are not offered this care and assistance, make sure you keep your receipts, as you can claim expenses back for these items later. Just make sure that any purchases you do make are reasonable, otherwise the airline can refuse to compensate you for these items.

If you are offered compensation and benefits on the day, such as travel vouchers, air miles or cash, and you accept this compensation, it is very unlikely that you’ll be able to make a further claim for compensation further down the line.

What Else Can I Ask The Airline For?

If you’re negotiating benefits with your airline in exchange for giving up your seat, it’s important that you remember that you may be losing money you have spent on other items like hotel reservations, rented cars and day trips, and that you factor this into your negotiations on the day.

If you accept compensation or benefits on the day of your flight and you do not include these extra expenses, it is very unlikely that you’ll be able to claim for them at a later date.