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Sometimes you might want to be bumped - if you've a flexible schedule and the compensation offered is generous.

In such cases, you want to consider flipping some of the strategies in part two around.

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Volunteering to be Bumped Off a Flight

Turn a negative into a positive and profit from the airline's problem

You mightn't get this much cash, but you can stand to handsomely benefit if you volunteer to be bumped off a flight.

Part of a series on being bumped from flights, see the other articles in this series listed on the right.



Although there are times when you absolutely must make a flight, there are other times when you might be perfectly happy to volunteer to be bumped.

If you've some spare time in your schedule, and if a later flight is only a little bit later, and if the compensation is generous, why not volunteer for the later flight.  You're not only benefitting yourself, but you're also potentially helping out a fellow traveler who desperately wants to be allowed on the flight and is otherwise at risk of being involuntarily denied boarding.

So, in complete contradiction to the previous part of this series, here are some thoughts about how to get accepted as a volunteer and to get the best benefit accordingly.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

If you're in a situation where you have plenty of spare time - perhaps you're flying home at the end of a trip on a weekend - and would be willing to volunteer, the key thing is to get your name as close to the top of the volunteer list as possible.

So here's the way to do that.  Either when checking in upon first getting to the airport, and/or when getting to the gate, go to the agent behind the counter and ask if they might be looking for volunteers.  Just because they're not making announcements, and just because they don't have a sign out, doesn't mean that they mightn't end up wanting/needing volunteers.

Speak to someone as soon as you can, saying something like 'Might you be seeking volunteers to be bumped off this flight?'

Sometimes the person might thank you and tell you they won't need volunteers, but other times the agent might say 'yes, we might, I'll keep your boarding pass to one side' or something like that.

You might want to, at the same time, get a feeling for the likely level of compensation and delay.

Be prepared

Consider the issue of being a volunteer even before you get to the airport.  Don't obsess over it, but if you have a few minutes free time, have a look to see how else you might be able to be rerouted and flown to your final destination, and think if you'd be willing to accept a later flight and what would be fair to expect in return.

Run, don't walk

Well, maybe not literally run, but if for some reason you haven't already volunteered and the airline asks for volunteers, make your way promptly and swiftly to the podium to register your interest.

Usually, the airline will get more volunteers than it needs.  The airline will accept volunteers based on several criteria - how easy it will be to re-accommodate them on alternate flights, and the simple order in which people volunteered.

So get your name nearer to the top of the list.

Make yourself an easy volunteer

Tell the agent how flexible you are willing to be in terms of accepting alternate flights.  Maybe the agent is already prepared and can tell you what the alternate flight arrangements will be.

Ideally, if you can say to the agent when volunteering 'I only have carry on luggage, and I have no more flights to make today after this one, and I'll be as flexible as you need me to be in return for fair compensation'.  This makes you a perfect volunteer in all respects.

Even better is if you can add 'I've flown a lot, I've volunteered before, sometimes being accepted and sometimes being not needed; I know how it all works, I won't give you any hassle, all I ask is for fair compensation if you end up needing me'.  These words are music to a gate agent's ears.

Simple flight changes are better

If you're on the first leg of a three or four leg journey, and if some of the other legs are on other airlines, then you're a much less appealing volunteer to the airline than if the flight you're volunteering off is the only flight you're making that day, meaning that there aren't a mess of consequential changes flowing through several other flights and involving other airlines.

On the other hand, if you're flying from somewhere, through one of the airline's major hubs, and then on to a final destination, that's not too bad.  Maybe they'll reroute you through a different hub, or just onto a later pair of flights.

When Will You Know if You're Going to be Volunteered

The airline will know when it needs volunteers either at the time that more intending passengers than the plane's capacity have checked in at the airport, or at the time when they release unclaimed seats, or at the time they've boarded a full plane load of passengers.

The number of actually checked in passengers, physically present at the gate, could exceed the total seats available at any time prior to the flight, but many times the airline won't know this for sure due to people having checked in at home the previous day - such people are likely to be flying, but they're not 100% definitely for sure traveling (maybe they'll get stuck in traffic and arrive too late to the airport).

Usually about 20 minutes prior to the flight's departure, the airline will then release all seats which have been reserved but for which the passenger has not yet checked in for.  That is a key point at which the gate staff start to get a feeling for if they'll have a problem or not.

But, remembering that these days it is hard to know if the person who checked in online, from somewhere other than the airport, will actually travel or not, the gate staff really only know for sure what will happen when they've counted the maximum number of people the plane can seat onto the plane.

And while you're probably familiar with having your boarding pass scanned or in some other way having the gate agent register your getting on to the jetway and on to the plane, sometimes there are manual boarding passes that aren't scanned that also have to be counted, and the net result often is a time of intense confusion at the gate while the staff try to work out exactly how many people boarded the plane.

So, bottom line, you might be advised if your offer to volunteer will be accepted or not as much as half an hour before the flight departs.  But you might also not know until almost literally the last minute, when you'll either be rushed onto the plane or not.

This leads to the next point :

The Potential Downside to Volunteering

So there you are.  You've been pre-assigned your favorite exit row seat, and your priority frequent flier status will give you priority boarding, meaning that you'll be sure to get onto the plane early and have plenty of space in the overhead to stow your carry-on items.

But, you volunteer for the flight, and so your seat is given to someone else.  And then, two minutes before the flight closes, you're called back to the podium and told your offer to volunteer won't be needed, and you're given a new boarding pass for a middle seat at the very back of the plane.  Most everyone else has already boarded, and you end up having to cram your carry-ons under the seat in front of you, leaving you with nowhere to put your legs, while squashed into a nasty noisy middle seat at the back of the plane with two burly people on either side of you.

This is the downside to volunteering.  There's not a great deal you can do to avoid this.  You could ask the agent not to release your seat to someone else until they're reasonably sure they will be needing you as a volunteer, and you could say 'if I lose my exit row seat and early boarding, but you don't need me as a volunteer, do you have a free drink coupon or a mileage bonus coupon you could compensate me with?' - that might get a positive response.

What to do After You've Been Told You'll be a Volunteer

Tell the agent you understand that you've been accepted as a volunteer, and confirm the key issues of what your compensation will be and when your next flight will be.

Then agree (or offer) to wait patiently until the agent has finished all the remaining details of working the flight that you're being volunteered off, and keep out of their hair until they can relax and attend to you.

Finessing your alternate flight arrangements

As soon as you know you might be a volunteer, you should do your own research into what alternate flights are available to you, so that when you come to discuss your alternate flights with the gate agent, you can add value to their discussion with you.

Call your travel agent, or call the airline, or call a friend, or use the internet yourself to research alternate flight possibilities.

There are four things you're looking for in accepting alternate flights.  Firstly, you want to be on flights that get you to where you're going (or to an acceptable alternate destination) as close to your expected arrival time as possible.

Secondly, you want to have a confirmed seat on the flights you'll be taking instead.  If you have a confirmed seat, you can of course subsequently volunteer to be bumped again, but if you don't have a confirmed seat and are flying standby, you really don't know what will happen and can't expect further compensation if you don't get on the flight.

Thirdly, it would be nice to be upgraded to business or first class on the alternate flights if possible (and maybe you'd accept a less optimum routing/schedule if it gets you upgraded).

Fourthly, it helps to be aware if other airlines could fly you to where you're going more readily than the carrier you'd originally booked with.  Your present carrier won't want to transfer you to another airline, but if you show you know there is a better choice elsewhere, this might get them to agree to that arrangement, or might 'guilt' them into being more generous with their own flights (ie upgrades, more compensation, other benefits, etc).

Double Dipping

Here's an inspirational closing thought.  After you've volunteered off one flight, don't hesitate to volunteer a second time on your next flight.

We know people who have ended up getting a double set of compensations after successfully volunteering off two flights in a single day of travel.  If you're going to change your plans anyway, don't hesitate to change them some more and get a double windfall.

Lastly, be sure to read our two parts of this series about how to negotiate the fairest compensation if you're being bumped.  You'll definitely need to know this.

Part of a series on being bumped from flights, see the other articles in this series listed on the top right.

Related Articles, etc

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Originally published 24 Jul 2009, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

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Volunteering to be bumped
What to do if you are involuntarily bumped
How to negotiate the best bumping compensation part 1
How to negotiate the best bumping compensation part 2
Your legal rights if bumped in the US
Your legal rights if bumped in the EU
Is the DoT Trying to Embarrass the Airlines part 1
Is the DoT Trying to Embarrass the Airlines part 2
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