Americans hate getting bumped. Here’s how to keep your seat on a holiday flight


Policygenius Staff

Policygenius Staff

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Published November 14, 2017|1 min read

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Give it up for the airlines: They’re surprisingly good about getting people home for the holidays. Per data from the Department of Transportation, only 8,955 Americans were involuntarily bumped from a flight last October to December. Meanwhile, 106,723 people voluntarily gave up their seat during the same timeframe.

Of course, those unlucky near-9,000 travelers probably weren’t too happy about being left off the plane. Americans really, really hate bumping. Per a Policygenius survey, more than 1 in 5 people (20.7%) say no amount of money makes up for losing their seat on a flight. And more than half (55%) required getting at least $5,000 (or wouldn’t be satisfied with any amount of compensation) to make up for inconvenience.

Moreover, people suggested they'd rather sit next to a crying baby then get stuck at the gate. Case in point: Nearly 13% of survey respondents said they consider $250 a good deal for putting up with those screams, while only 3.5% said that same amount made up for missing the flight.

These results are based on a nationally representative sample of 1,500 adults polled online from by Google Consumer surveys from July 13 to July 15. Its margin of error is between 3% and 5%.

Avoiding a holiday bump

Airports certainly get crowded during the holidays. More government stats show the number of long-distance trips increasing by 54% during the six-day Thanksgiving travel period and 23% and during the Christmas/New Year’s timeframe.

There’s no way to guarantee those crowds won’t cost you a seat, but there are things you can do to lower the odds of becoming a bumping statistic. Here’s how to avoid getting bumped from your holiday flight.

  1. Check in early. Every airline chooses it’s bumpees differently, but quite a few at least consider who was last to the races, so check-in as early as possible for your flight.

  2. Fly first class. Expensive, we know, but business or first-class passengers are given priority status, which generally includes keeping their pricey seat.

  3. Travel on Thanksgiving or fly home early for Christmas. Those flights are less desirable and, as such, less crowded. Bonus: Traveling on off-peak days or during off-peak hours (hello, red eye!) is also less expensive. We’ve got more tips to saving on your holiday travel here.

  4. Sign up for a carrier’s frequent flyer program. It’s less of a failsafe than flying first-class, but elite status with an airline can keep you on the plane.

  5. Take the bump. A slew of viral involuntary bumps this summer jacked up the price airlines are paying people to give up their seat. United, for instance, said it would offer up to $10,000 to passengers, following a now infamous incident in which a doctor was brutally dragged from one of its planes. And just this September, Delta paid a women $4,000 to take an eight-hour bump from an oversold flight. Bottomline: If an auction starts for a seat on your flight, it could be worthwhile to give up yours. Sure, you might miss Christmas dinner, but that money will come in handy when it’s time to pay that January credit card bill.

  6. Consider travel insurance. It won’t keep you from getting bumped, but should cover the costs of a hotel if a flight isn’t available until the next morning. Plus, travel insurance protects you from other travel delays or cancellations.

Flying with a (hopefully-not-screaming) baby for the first time this holiday season? Here’s a travel checklist for new parents.

Image: Woodgiver