When reports of a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight due to an overbooking conflict began surfacing on social media, many asked whether airlines are allowed to act in such a way.
The short answer is: yes.
United Airlines‘ contract of carriage mentions the word “overbooking” just once to declare that all flights are subject to overbooking, and states later on in the document that the airline has the right to remove passengers for failing to comply with the the contract.
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In fact, there is very little by way of regulation regarding how personnel should properly handle these encounters. Most Canadian airlines fail to outline whether personnel are allowed to forcibly remove passengers from flights in this particular circumstance, although they do claim the right to remove a customer from a flight for a variety of other reasons.
While the Canadian Transportation Agency leaves the amount of monetary compensation up to the individual airline, the European Union and the United States have compensation regulations that airlines within their jurisdictions must follow.
In order to change that, the Canadian government is looking to introduce legislation specifically dedicated to “airline bumping.”
A spokesperson for the Trudeau government told the Canadian Press that bumping rules will be included in a passenger bill of rights that was promised last fall to establish clear, minimum requirements for compensation when flights are oversold or luggage is lost.
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According to airline industry expert Fred Lazar however, overbooking is a longstanding practice that’s just now getting recognition in the age of social media. He says the chances of overbooking coming to an end are slim to none.
“Overbooking is a reality of life. Airlines will continue to do this, but the onus is on the airline to inform people that pay the cheapest fares of the possibility that they will be bumped.”
That being the case, let’s take a look at how some Canadian airlines deal with overbooking flights, and what you can ask for in return.
Air Canada’s overbooking protocol requires personnel to ask for volunteers to leave the overbooked flight before denying boarding to anyone else.
After that, passengers will be denied boarding based on “boarding priority.” Airline expert Fred Lazar confirms that this refers to how much the passenger in question paid for their ticket, or whether they’re loyalty members with Air Canada.
“Passengers most likely to be bumped are infrequent flyers looking for the best fares with no loyalty to any airline,” Lazar explains. This way, he says, the airline has very little to lose by inconveniencing these passengers.
Persons denied boarding involuntarily are entitled to compensation, although Air Canada’s overbooking notice doesn’t specify how much passengers are entitled to.
This can also vary depending on where the flight is departing from. Passengers forced off flights due to overbooking who are departing from the U.K. or China have the option to go through a slightly different process.
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While WestJet does not overbook its flights, the airline leaves open the possibility of flights being “oversold.” In this circumstance, customers will be asked to volunteer to be accommodated on the next available flight. Passengers will be selected for re-accommodation based on check-in time and identified passenger requirements.
Following this, the passenger denied boarding will be placed on the next available flight and issued a form of compensation “acceptable to the passenger.” The passenger is entitled to be informed of all the ways they can choose to receive this compensation.
Lazar believes that airlines could do a much better job of informing passengers about the possibility of overbooking flights, and what they are entitled to in that situation. “I think the airlines do a very poor job of informing passengers, ‘If you buy these tickets, this is what you are entitled to.’ Airports have sufficient information to forewarn passengers.”
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Passengers denied boarding while flying with Porter are entitled to a refund for the ticket (including connecting flights that are no longer relevant), an alternative flight at no extra cost, or to be returned to their point of origin.
The airline’s domestic tariff policies outline that Porter is responsible for the damage caused by the mistake, and that it will take steps to “mitigate the scheduling irregularity.”
Furthermore, passengers can demand to be booked on a flight with another airline carrier if they choose.
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Passengers denied boarding on Air Transat flights due to overbooking are entitled to be booked on a departing flight to their destination within a reasonable time, at no additional cost, or transportation back to their home.
In addition, the passenger will be awarded either cash or a travel credit equal to the fare originally paid. In this case, the carrier is responsible for setting the compensation rate based on “all circumstances of the case.”