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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Finessing your alternate
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
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).
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.
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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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.