Delta Air Lines passengers boarding a flight on Monday morning were amazed to be offered $10,000 (£8,210) to give up their seats.
Boarding had already begun for the flight – from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Minneapolis, Minnesota -when Delta staff announced that the flight was overbooked,
Airline ground staff said they were looking for eight passengers willing to travel to Minneapolis, Minnesota on a later flight. In return, the volunteers would each be awarded $10,000 in compensation.
The Independent was unable to verify how much the airline paid out to passengers in this instance, but it is not uncommon for large sums to be paid out when passengers are denied boarding – also known as being ‘bumped’ from flights – in this way.
In 2017, a British family of three was awarded £8,866 for giving up their seats on an overbooked Delta flight from New York to Florida.
That same year, a Delta staff memo revealed that gate agents had been given greater flexibility over handling overbooked flights, including a bigger budget to offer passengers who give up their seats.
This was following the incident in which a paying passenger was dragged off a United Airlines plane to make room for airline staff to board instead.
Many airlines have a policy of selling more tickets than there are seats available on flights because many passengers (5 per cent, on average, according to easyJet) fail to turn up for flights they have booked.
United States law requires airlines to pay compensation for passengers giving up seats on an oversold flight if they are unable to reach their destination within one hour of the flight’s original arrival time.
The amount of compensation paid depends on the price of the original ticket, the length of the delay due to being denied boarding, and whether the flight is domestic or international.
Passengers experiencing short delays can expect to receive compensation equal to double the one-way price of their original flight, while those who have to wait longer receive four times the cost of the original ticket.
While some airlines choose to limit these amounts to $775 and $1,550 respectively, they are free to pay whatever sum they deem appropriate.
The system works slightly differently in the UK, where there is no specific compensation requirement for those denied boarding.
Airlines might offer compensation to those passengers who volunteer to give up their seats on an oversold flight, but if there are no passengers are willing to do so, they are entitled to deny boarding.
In that case, anyone offloaded is entitled to assistance and compensation that applies in the case of a flight being cancelled.
This includes either a full refund or an alternative flight to your destination plus two free phone calls or emails, free meals and refreshments if it’s a long-enough delay, and free hotel accommodation and hotel transfers if an overnight stay is required.
Airlines, however, often prefer to go well beyond their legal obligations and pay large sums in compensation to avoid reputational damage.
After the incident involving the injured passenger when being forcibly removed from a plane came to light, United’s stock price plummeted three per cent.