What passenger rights do you have in the United overbooked debacle?

This week the whole world (or at least the internet attuned part of it) was shook as a passenger was hauled off a United flight that had been overbooked. Igniting fury in people all over at the way staff can treat passengers who have rightly paid for their ticket.

So…if this can actually happen to you as a passenger – then what rights are you actually entitled to?

Simply -> those who are removed from the flight against their will ARE entitled to compensation.


In general, airlines will overbook flights in order to compensate for a certain amount of “no-shows” and minimise their losses as much as possible. Most of the time this doesn’t affect passengers too much, but when everyone shows – there is the obvious issue that there just isn’t enough seats on the plane.

In the first instance, airlines will call for any passengers that are willing to get on a different flight voluntarily. Mostly, they will call upon those who do not have an urgent need to reach their destination (i.e. no connecting flights). In the case of volunteering to get off of an overbooked flight, you will receive compensation and get put on the next available flight to get you to your destination as quickly as possible. It is at the discretion of the airline to negotiate appropriate compensation for you, whether it is some money, free food and drink vouchers, or hotel stays if you are forced to stay in the origin destination for longer than intended.

The compensation isn’t regulated – so you want to be sure before volunteering exactly what you are signing up for, are there limits to the compensation? Also, don’t settle for the first thing they offer, make sure to get something reasonable if it is going to cause you any issues.


If you do not volunteer to not board an overbooked plane and instead are chosen at random to not be denied boarding – then you have rights to compensation from the airline, which will be in cash or cheque form. It depends on the circumstances how much this will be, such as:

  • If you reach your destination within 1-2 hours after your original arrival time, then you will get 200% of the one-way fare with a maximum of $675 compensation.
  • If you reach your destination two hours + later than your original arrival time, then you will get 400% of the one-way fare with a maximum of $1350 compensation.
  • You will get refunded any special extras you paid for, i.e. seat selection and baggage.

However, if the airline gets you to your destination within one hour of your original arrival time, there will be no compensation at all.

A lot of the compensation is based on making sure that you have the correct documents to prove you a. have a confirmed reservation and b. that you made it to the departure gate before the airlines check-in deadline.

Really, what the United case has taught us, is that when it comes to flying – airlines are all powerful. There really is no way to get around them forcibly taking you off the flight, and they make sure they are legally covered to be able to do so. Making sure you know your rights is always a good idea before taking any action or losing out on any compensation. If you’re flying around the EU and want to know your rights check out our blog here. Also, download Ahoy for 24/7 support when travelling and knowing your rights.