United Airlines is having a rough week after video emerged showing airport security dragging a man from their plane after he refused to give up his seat to accommodate another flight crew.  Now, to be fair, airlines do reserve the right to overbook flights (it’s in that tiny print you agree to when you buy your ticket) and they have the power to deny or remove any passenger – although it’s almost always done prior to boarding.

If it happens to you… Federal regulations require that anybody involuntarily denied boarding from an overbooked flight receive compensation if the alternative travel arrangements to their destination are planned to arrive more than one hour late.  Airlines know this, which is why you’ll hear them ask for volunteers over the loudspeaker.  They might offer volunteers a flight voucher or first-class upgrade, but they’ll avoid having to pay monetary compensation required by federal law.

Airlines can also avoid paying you if they can arrange to get you there no later than one hour after the originally planned arrival time. For an arrangement leaving you more than an hour late, airlines will need to find their checkbook.

For interstate flights, compensation will be 200% of the fare to the destination ($675 max) if arrangements are made for you to arrive between one and two hours late.  If the airline can’t plan to get you to your destination within two hours of the original arrival time, they’ll owe you 400% of the fare ($1,350 max). If you paid with points or airlines miles, the fare price will be the lowest paid on the plane for a similar seat. Passengers in foreign air transportation who are denied boarding at US airports receive similar payouts, however more time is given for the alternate flight’s planned arrival.

Passengers will receive 200% of the fare (max $675) for delays between one and four hours, and 400% (max $1,350) for delays not less than 4 hours after the planned arrival of the original flight.

There are certain exceptions. First, the plane must hold at least 30 passengers. Second, on aircrafts designed for 60 or fewer passengers, there is no compensation if the reason for removal is weigh/balance restrictions.  Also, passengers must have a confirmed reservation for a seat on the plane. Passengers who do not comply fully with ticketing, reconfirmation, or check-in procedures are ineligible.

Next time you get bumped from an overbooked flight, see how long it takes them to get you to your destination.  If it’s more than one hour late, tell them to find their checkbook.