United Airlines isn’t alone: The law on overbooking flights in Australia

Recently, United Airlines made headlines around the world for a video that went viral on social media. The video showed a passenger being asked to leave the plane and later dragged out of his seat because the flight was overbooked. Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence, with United Airlines booting 3765 passengers from flights last year after selling more tickets than there were seats on the plane. This raises the question: Is it legal for airlines to bump passengers from planes in Australia?

The law in Australia

Overbooking flights is legal in Australia, but isn’t very common. Research by CHOICE found that 21 per cent of Australians experienced flight delays or cancellations in 2015, with just 4 per cent of those bumped from their flight due to overbooking.

Compensation for overbooking

When overbooking does occur, passengers are protected by the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). According to the ACL, airlines are required to provide services with due care and skill. If the airline fails to do so, the consumer is entitled to seek compensation for any consequential loss or damage resulting from failure to meet the airline’s consumer guarantees. However, it is important to be aware that there is no legal requirement for airlines to provide compensation for passengers denied boarding due to overbooking. Despite this, most airlines provide compensation as a matter of policy.

Use of force

In the United Airlines video, the elderly passenger was dragged and badly injured from his encounter with airport security, despite having posed no obvious threat to the safety of passengers or staff. In Australia, pilots and cabin crew have the right to arrest and give direction to passengers on flights to prevent breaches of the Civil Aviation Regulations. However, the use of force must be reasonable, or the individual who attempted to remove the passenger may be liable for civil claims of assault and battery.

How to avoid being bumped off a flight

If you’re still worried about being bumped off your next flight, here are some key tips to aware of:

  • Check in early, as once you have a seat assigned you’re less likely to be bumped.
  • Airlines will usually bump people flying on the cheapest tickets because the required compensation will be lower. For your next flight, consider upgrading your ticket to prevent being bumped.
  • Airlines are most likely to oversell during busy travel periods, such as the summer holiday season. To avoid being bumped off your flight, consider travelling during off peak times.
  • Choose to fly with your family when possible, as airlines are unlikely to break up a family group or bump a minor travelling without an adult.
  • If you are bumped from your flight, ask your airline to cover any on-costs such as accommodation.

Want to know more about Australian Consumer Law? Are you looking for a solicitor in Newcastle, Sydney or the Hunter to assist you in your legal matter?  Call us on (02) 4929 7002, email us or complete an enquiry form.

Image: ‘Qantas Boeing 747 at Sydney Airport’ by maxim75 available at Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.