Airline Fined $275,000 for Improper 'Bumping' of Passengers

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently assessed a civil penalty against Comair for violating federal rules regarding passengers denied boarding (“bumped”) on oversold flights. Comair and affiliated carriers were ordered to cease and desist from further violations and Comair will pay a civil penalty of $275,000.

“Our bumping rules are designed to protect passengers when airlines overbook a flight,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We expect carriers to comply with these rules and will take enforcement action when they do not.”

When a flight is oversold, DOT regulations require airlines to seek volunteers willing to give up their seats for compensation. If not enough volunteers can be found and the carrier must bump passengers involuntarily, the carrier is required to give bumped passengers a written statement describing their rights and explaining how it decides who will be bumped from an oversold flight. In most cases, passengers bumped involuntarily also are entitled to cash compensation of up to $800. In June, DOT proposed raising the maximum denied boarding compensation to $1,300 and tying future increases to inflation.

DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office began an investigation of Comair’s compliance with the bumping rules following a number of complaints filed by consumers. The investigation involved a review of bumping complaints sent to Comair by consumers, as well as an inspection at the carrier’s headquarters of its consumer complaint records and its policies and practices for oversold flights. The investigation revealed numerous cases in which Comair failed to solicit volunteers to leave overbooked flights and provide passengers with the appropriate denied boarding compensation. The Aviation Enforcement Office also found that Comair had filed inaccurate reports with DOT on the number of passengers involuntarily denied boarding.

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