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Upon checking in to my flight tomorrow, UA 2372 from IAD to LAS, I was greeted by a bidding system. I assumed United had quite the full flight or had overbooked and wanted for people to go on alternates, but I refused.

In the scenario that United starts involuntarily bumping people (quite possibly my family), what compensation can I receive? According to the USDOT, https://www.transportation.gov/individuals/aviation-consumer-protection/bumping-oversales?lid=sbqcd7i99jmw, I should be able to receive some compensation above an hour of delay.

However, I do have a question. How does this work?

Does the delay include ANY flight United gets me on (including those with layovers in for example, SFO, EWR, LAX?) or does it only apply to flights of the same stop amount (since this is a direct flight, the delay would be calculated based on the next nonstop flight United can get me on). Please leave comments if this makes no sense.

How does United calculate the one-way fare for compensation? Is it based on the price at the time of booking or what?

Edit: Also, my family of three is travelling. Would we receive compensation individually (three compensations) or all together (one compensation)

Just to add; I have no special rank on United and booked basic economy. I'd appreciate some clarification; just to know what rights I have in the scenario I am bumped. Thanks!

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    I'd be far more concerned about 1 or 2 of the three people traveling together being bumped than about how much money I was going to get or how they calculate the compensation... Imagine the joy of having mom & dad bumped while little 4-year-old Timmy gets to go on the flight...
    – FreeMan
    Dec 19, 2023 at 14:08

2 Answers 2

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The short version is that your chances of being Involuntary Denied Boarding on United is basically zero. IDB rates on United are running slightly less than 1 person denied boarding per million passengers - your odds of winning the lottery are higher.

The reason these rates are so low comes down to things like what you've experienced - proactively requesting volunteers to take a different flight. The notification you've received does NOT mean that your flight is overbooked, it just means that it's at least very close to full. This offer will go out to anyone on the flight, and generally they will receive sufficient people willing to be paid to take a different flight that they won't even need to call for "volunteers" at the gate.

If the flight is overbooked, and they don't receive sufficient offers via the check-in process to take a different flight, then they will announce at the gate area, asking for people to volunteer to take other flights - with compensation for doing so that can run into several thousand dollars per passenger!

Only if they don't receive sufficient "volunteers" will they start involuntary denied boarding people - however as I said the odds of this happening are so close to zero to basically not consider.
There is a maximum of $1,550 per person compensation.

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  • For what it's worth, "United's" IDB rate is slightly higher if you include branded codeshare partners (companies like SkyWest.) But that only brings up the odds to 1.6 per million passengers, so your main point is still well taken. (Full 2022 report available here, showing 212 IDB cases out of 130.6 million enplanements.) Dec 18, 2023 at 17:57
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    +1, but this didn't really answer the question: if OP does win the IDB lottery, how much is the compensation? Dec 18, 2023 at 21:27
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    @lambshaanxy A maximum of $1,550 per person. But realistically it's not going to happen.
    – Doc
    Dec 19, 2023 at 2:22
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    @gerrit I would guess it's because having planes as full as possible all the time makes airlines A LOT of extra money so they're happy to share a bit to keep the scheme going. But a flight delay is costing them money, so they don't want it to cost even more by giving compensation.
    – Sam Dean
    Dec 19, 2023 at 13:54
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    @gerrit: It's not about generally compensating passengers for delay. The minimum compensation for IDB is set by the government specifically as a way to discourage excessive overbooking by airlines. The incentives offered by airlines for voluntarily taking the next flight would be proportionately less than this amount; if the airline would have to pay $1000 to a customer who was IDB'ed, they may very well offer $500 to get someone off voluntarily instead. Dec 25, 2023 at 15:52
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The link you gave includes a link to the actual federal regulations (14 CFR 250) which clarify some of these points.

As you saw in the link you gave, the compensation is either nothing (if delay less than 1 hour), 2x your fare with a cap of $775 (for delay of 1-2 hours), or 4x your fare with a cap of $1550 (delay of 2 hours or more).

Does the delay include ANY flight United gets me on (including those with layovers in for example, SFO, EWR, LAX?) or does it only apply to flights of the same stop amount (since this is a direct flight, the delay would be calculated based on the next nonstop flight United can get me on). Please leave comments if this makes no sense.

"Alternate transportation" does not have to be the same number of stops. The regulation assumes that you only care about when you arrive at your final destination, not how you arrive there. And it's based on the transportation that the airline offers, not on what you actually end up taking.

So if for instance, you originally booked a nonstop flight IAD-LAS arriving at 9:00, and United offered to rebook you on IAD-SFO-LAS which would arrive at LAS at 10:30, you would be eligible for 2x compensation. If you say "I hate connecting flights, so I'd rather take the next IAD-LAS nonstop, and the next one would arrive at 12:30", the airline will probably oblige you, but your compensation will still be based on a delay of 1.5 hours, not 3.5 hours.

How does United calculate the one-way fare for compensation? Is it based on the price at the time of booking or what?

It's the fare that you actually paid. If you bought this flight as part of a round-trip or multi-city itinerary, you should be able to get a detailed receipt from the airline that shows the breakdown into the one-way fare for each leg, and for each person traveling.

Also, my family of three is travelling. Would we receive compensation individually (three compensations) or all together (one compensation)?

Compensation is per person. So in principle, they could bump just one of you. Then that person would receive compensation based on the amount of the fare paid for that person alone (which again should be broken down on your detailed receipt), and the other two would be able to fly as normally scheduled.

But splitting up families often leads to stories that generate bad PR, so I expect they try to avoid it. What's more likely is that, if they just need one seat, they would bump someone else who is traveling alone. They're allowed to take such factors into consideration - it doesn't have to be a totally random lottery of all the passengers. If they need three or more seats, then they might bump all of you together, and then each of you would receive compensation based on your own fare, thus effectively getting 2x or 4x the total amount paid for your family.

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