Bumped from a Delta Flight — Are You Owed Anything?

Delta Airlines
Passengers wait for a Delta Airlines flight in Terminal 5 at Los Angeles International Airport, on May 4, in Los Angeles. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Were Brian Maslar and his wife bumped from their Delta Air Lines flight from Cleveland to Aruba? If so, does the airline owe them anything?

Q: I was wondering if I could get your opinion on this issue my wife and I had with Delta Air Lines. We recently flew from Cleveland to Aruba via Atlanta. But we were removed from our connecting flight and had to spend the night in Atlanta. Delta covered our meals and hotel expenses.

I believe my wife and I were involuntarily denied boarding. Isn't there a rule that Delta should compensate us for being bumped? I noticed that on our return flight, they were offering $600 vouchers for people to give up their seats and take a later flight. Is Delta being cheap and trying to get out of offering flight vouchers, or aren't we eligible? — Brian Maslar, North Royalton, Ohio

A: It sure looks as if Delta forgot to compensate you for removing you from a flight. And it never hurts to ask if an airline is being "cheap." It usually is.

But is Delta being cheap? Let's have a look at the rules. If you have a seat on an oversold flight and an airline denies you boarding, also known as a "bump," then you're entitled to compensation under federal regulations. Those are spelled out on the DOT website.

For example, if you're bumped and the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to get you to your final destination, including a later connection, within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, there is no compensation. But if you're delayed between one and two hours after your original arrival time on a domestic flight, the airline must pay you an amount equal to 200 percent of your one-way fare to your final destination that day, with a $675 maximum.

But if your flight is just delayed, then federal rules don't apply. So, for example, if your outbound flight is delayed and you can't make your connecting flight to Aruba, then you're not covered by any federal rules. Then the reasons for the delay would become important. For weather delays, the airline would not owe you anything — not even a hotel room. For a mechanical delay or anything within the airline's control, airlines normally cover hotels, meals and ground transportation.

You can find the particulars on Delta's domestic general rules tariff, the contract between you and the airline (See Rule 240 C for details.)

A brief, polite email to Delta might have cleared up any confusion. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of Delta's customer-service executives on my consumer-advocacy website: elliott.org/company-contacts/delta.

It looks as if you tried to resolve this case in person and by phone. First, by asking for compensation at the airline desk, and then by making a follow-up call. I would strongly recommend starting a paper trail, which is far easier to track.

I contacted Delta on your behalf, and it turns out that your initial delay in Cleveland meant you couldn't make your connection to Aruba. In other words, you weren't bumped from the flight. A Delta representative contacted you and explained the circumstances, and offered you a choice of either 20,000 miles of a $200 flight voucher as a goodwill gesture. You've indicated that you're happy with that resolution.

Christopher Elliott's latest book is "How To Be The World's Smartest Traveler" (National Geographic). You can get real-time answers to any consumer question on his new forum, elliott.org/forum, or by emailing him at chris@elliott.org.