American Airlines Bumps Passenger Off Flight, Agent Says They “Do Not Care About DOT Rules”

Michael Trager, who runs frequent traveler and casino loyalty site TravelZork, had one of the most interesting “bump” stories I’ve heard in a long time. He was involuntarily denied boarding on an American Airlines flight last week, and airport staff refused to provide him any compensation saying that they “do not care about DOT Rules.”

When you’re confirmed on a flight – boarding pass in hand, even – and the airline tells you they don’t have a seat available for you they are ‘bumping’ you off the trip. And when they aren’t offering you enough compensation to take another flight willingly, that’s an “involuntary denied boarding.” Under federal rules, an airline owes you cash. But what happens when they just tell you to pound sand?

The interesting wrinkle here is that Trager was confirmed onto the flight after first standing by for it.

He was issued a boarding pass. He boarded the aircraft and stowed his carry on bag. But that’s when he discovered there was already someone else at his seat.

He waited in the aircraft’s back galley while American sorted out the situation. The other passenger presented “an email on his phone that said his seat was changed” and it did not match his boarding pass.

The flight attendant’s tablet “showed [his] name for the specific seat” that matched his boarding pass, but he was ‘kicked off’ the aircraft.

Michael Trager relays that the gate agent, who identified themselves as a supervisor, said “We do this all day long.” They were unwilling to discuss compensation or treat him as though he’d been denied boarding. They simply said they shouldn’t have cleared him off of standby.

He says that “they refuse[d] to discuss further, say[ing] there is no further or higher management in terminal 8 at JFK.” He reports that he was yelled and screamed at even though by their own admission it was their error (this is, after all, New York). And he was told that they “do not care” about what Department of Transportation rules may apply. When he said that left him no avenue other than filing with DOT, he reports that they told him “You do what you have to do.”

So here’s what the Department of Transportation has to say about ‘bumping’ passengers.

First, if I’m right that this is an involuntary denied boarding then the amount of compensation due is based on how long the passenger is delayed. In this case it was over 2 hours (the next flight left 3.5 hours later), which would mean the airline owes him 400% of the cost of his one-way fare, not to exceed $1,550.

There are exceptions where an airline doesn’t owe compensation when they deny you boarding. However,

  • There was no aircraft change or weight and balance issue. It was not a charter flight or plane with fewer than 30 passengers.
  • In this case the denial was not “due to a safety, security, or health risk, or due to a behavior that is considered obscene, disruptive, or otherwise unlawful.”

Here it appears to me that American Airlines didn’t just fail to pay compensation required under federal regulations, they may have violated three other rules along the way as well.

  1. They removed him from the aircraft after the gate agent accepted his boarding pass and let him know that he could proceed to board (the David Dao rule).

  2. The passenger was not given a “written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets bumped.”

  3. And they were not paid promptly since “airlines must offer passengers compensation at the airport on the same day” and if this is impossible because the airline gets the passenger on their way too quickly, the the airline “must pay the passenger within 24 hours of the bumping incident.”

He waited out the delay until the 11:30 a.m. flight in the Greenwich lounge, the shared American Airlines-British Airways business class lounge in New York JFK terminal 8, by virtue of his partner airline elite status.

I suggested to him that he’d likely need to file a DOT consumer complaint and let them sort it out. Doing that gets more senior eyes on the issue at the airline.

However, I also reached out to American to learn more about the situation. I understand they looked into the matter, and American will be providing involuntary denied boarding compensation. They agree that having been issued the boarding pass, which they accepted for travel, means this falls under denied boarding rules.

That’s a great outcome. While it’s certainly my read of DOT regulations that he’s entitled to compensation, American might have responded that they’d simply made a brief error which they corrected. And he ultimately traveled on his originally-booked flight. DOT could be sympathetic to an airline making a mistake and “exercise enforcement discretion” (decide to ignore the rules) and not pressure the air carrier for compensation.

Regardless, this scenario fascinated me because it’s not how denied boardings usually unfold. And the passenger is going to receive compensation without having to go to the Department of Transportation (or wait).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This happened to me on US Airways. I was cleared from the standby list and boarded the flight. Another passenger approached my seat and claimed to have just been cleared from standby into the same seat. The gate agent removed me from the flight, saying only there had been a “mistake.” No apology.

    US Airways customer service called me a few days later responding to my complaint about IDB. The rep said this wasn’t an IDB situation and that was that.

  2. By the ‘book’ he was due the IDB, but hardly the spirit of IDB delay comp formula.

    He got the boarding pass issued moments before the flight as a standby hoping to get in 4 hours early.

    Not like he had a reservation on that flight in advance and made plans days before counting on that particular flight.

    Nor is he delayed vs what he originally booked.

    He got back on his original flight.

    So he’s going to get $$ based on a 4 hour delay but getting there at the originally ticketed time.

    I’d be fine if IDB rules were changed so that delay kicks in based on the originally ticketed arrival time, not a new earlier one for standby.

    AA shouldn’t be de-boarding standbys it’s a bit of a hassle, but hitting them with the delay penalty like this when he got what he originally paid for arrival time wise is a loophole the current regs don’t factor.

  3. Not sure a standby (who is confirmed on a later flight) is eligible. He can fight the system or just accept it and roll with it. People spend way too much time and energy getting upset over minor things (and there is always Gary to stir the pot).

  4. I am no longer a road warrior, have 1.5 million lifetime miles on United, and 500K on American. I only have that many miles on American for two reasons, lots of trips to PHL and CLT, and stupid Concur rules by two of my former companies that basically forced me to fly AA as they were often cheaper than United, as they needed to be lower-priced to attract biz travelers as they basically suck.. AA has the dubious distinction for me as the only airline that IDB me, even though I had status at the time.
    I have no idea why anyone would want to fly AA these days, they are only slightly above Frontier or Spirit, and have the clientele to match those budget carriers. Whenever I see someone that admits they are Executive Platinum or god forbid, Concierge Key, I ask myself, what is wrong with those people? Haven’t they got the message that AA is now a 2nd rate airline?

  5. I may have been wrongly kicked off the plane.

    I flew Southwest on standby. They put in on a flight to AUS which was continuing to HOU. When we landed in AUS, they forced me off the plane to take my later originally scheduled flight AUS-HOU.

  6. I have not flown AA since I witnessed a male flight attendant reduce a young female soldier to tears over trying to fit her duffle in an overhead bin. That was over fifteen years ago. AA is the worst of all the majors. .

  7. I was cleared as a standby on a flight and was taken off the flight. The gate agent apologized profusely for the SNAFU and upgraded me to FC on the next flight. Poor customer service on AA’s part but why would he be eligible for denied boarding? He flew out on his original flight.

  8. There’s one more step: fire the gate agent that said “don’t care about DOT rules”

    Crap like this will continue until gate agents know their job is on the line if they screw up this bad.

    Gate agents already cut corners to get to D0. Why? Because they get in trouble if the flight departs late.

    Time to put the same attention toward telling a customer the DOT can pound sand.

  9. Here’s one so unique, you’ll NEVER hear again anywhere…

    1. My wife and newborn rushed to long IAD gate connection for short flight on a United commuter.

    We saw our flight on the gate sign, boarded and sat in the last 2 seats just in time. WHEW!


    A man approached who also had ticket for my seat.

    FA said I must deplane, but wife and infant could stay, if desired.

    REASON: Our flight had been cancelled, and this flight now replaced our flight. (They never updated the gate sign, and boarded us by mistake.)

    UA put us in a hotel and flew us next day.

    2. I witnessed an elite passenger get kicked off A350 for plane being overweight. When he said he had status, they said it doesn’t matter because his bag was loaded last and thus comes off first. He was PISSED.

    3. I missed ATL connection to S Africa. They said too bad…weather. I said NO, we sat on takeoff taxiway FOREVER + Circled airport FOREVER + Waited on taxiway for the gate to open FOREVER. They said ok you win, and gave me hotel voucher + T-shirt/toothbrush.

  10. My wife and I were involuntarily denied boarding during our Cancun/Charlotte/BWI connection. We were at the gate in Charlotte an hour before departure. American denied us boarding, despite having boarding passes in hand, stating that their computer algorithm predicted we would miss our connection. They offered us NOTHING. I complained all the way up the chain in Charlotte. They were some of the nastiest people I’ve ever encountered. They finally offered 1000 ff miles to leave us stranded in Charlotte overnight. I had no choice but to start yelling loudly telling them to call the police. They finally found two seats on the previously oversold later last flight of the night for us. I filed a complaint with DOT. I received a $100 voucher. The domestic airline community would improve its reputation without this carrier.

  11. That’s why I don’t fly American, rude staff. They don’t care if they leave you stranded. Also don’t honor prepaid seat upgrades.

  12. Travelzork should still file a DOT complaint. These complaints of wrong doing are the only way that AA will do something about this issue. It’s great he got paid but they’ll just do this to someone else. File a DOT complaint.

  13. So, a revenue pax is going to get reimbursed for being bumped from a flight that they weren’t supposed to be on and they still got home on time? Is this really a story? And can anyone say privileged?
    Also, please stop using David Dao as an example of wrongful involuntary deplanings. He’s a charlatan, barely licensed Doc, who wanted to work the system for a huge payday and it absolutely worked. He had the lowest status, so that’s why he was bumped. He tried to argue with the staff and of course the police are going to be called. Were ohare police too rough at first, probably. Should everyone been deplaned instead, sure. But if a pax is being argumentative and noncompliant, they don’t get to set the rules. The aircraft is not the place to take a stand or start a protest. And when he ran back to the plane is when he really got a beat down. Again, not condoning, but protection of the flight deck is the priority.
    Please let this stupid story die.

  14. It’s a long story just to tell the simple fact that he ended up taking the flight he booked in the first place..

  15. I’m a retired AA employee after almost 40 years of service. Myself and many retirees will not fly AA we rather buy our tickets either with United or Delta if we want to travel. I used to be proud of working for AA many years ago before the merger with USAir, AA was a first class carrier but USAir destroyed it now it is the same as flying with Spirit or Frontier. So sad.

  16. I’m a retired AA employee after almost 40 years of service. Myself and many retirees will not fly AA we rather buy our tickets either with United or Delta if we want to travel. I used to be proud of working for AA many years ago before the merger with USAir, AA was a first class carrier but USAir destroyed it now it is the same as flying with Spirit or Frontier. So sad.

  17. Neither one of them would have been allowed on board if the PNR didn’t have a seat on board. I’m familiar with the process and the AA software. It seems like the software that sent the email failed to change the seat. The gate agent should have been smart enough () to find the actual seat of the person that was already seated. He would have not been allowed on board if the PNR didn’t have a seat associated with. The flight manifest is handled and stored at Sabre.

  18. Gary,

    You did a great disservice: the DOT never heard about this, and will go on believing AA is abiding by the rules.

    You should have contacted the DOT, not AA.

  19. Good you went to bat for him and he hit his compensation (just or not).

    I’ve been ExPlat for 5 years now. I don’t share all the negativity about them and I travel with them a lot. Sure I’ve had some very bad experiences with them but 95% of my flights I would speak highly of them. Is 5% bad experiences a high number? Or am I just lucky?

  20. Ultimately the problem is that the gate agent and their supervisory staff there will not even know how this pans out. I doubt they will be reprimanded or anything else so they will continue to treat other customers like this. I’ve experienced the same sort of issues and attitude with AA gate supervisors at PHL. They are like local warlords or something and the power goes to their head. It’s actually amazing to see it face to face.

  21. While this might technically be an IDB, it’s not really…Here’s what happened, and it does happen all the time:

    1) PAX A failed to get his boarding pass scanned correctly at the gate and boarded anyhow.
    2) Pax B is cleared from the standby list onto the flight, only to find that Pax A is in the seat already.
    3) FA comes and confirms that Pax A is in fact correctly seated and Pax B cannot have their standby seat after all.
    4) Pax B gets their originally scheduled flight.

    While that technically might be a DOT IDB and subject to compensation, it’s hardly in the spirit of it.

  22. If you are a standby passenger, then you are never really confirmed until your flight is in the air. If you make the choice to fly standby then you assume the risk. Freedom and liberty!!

  23. What bothers me is that the US airlines are dealing with IDBs all day long and some like AA are making it a joke. Basic rules are simple. This case is solved and the passenger enjoyed champagne while back in the lounge and we all smiled.

    What is sad are all the unknown stories of IDBs of people who don’t know their rights: an elderly couple from Idaho, a young nurse from New Mexico, a carpenter who only speaks Spanish and needs to get to his new gig.

    These are the few stories I have witnessed over the last couple of years. Airlines are usually taking advantage of people “who know less” and rarely get in trouble with frequent travelers. Let’s reflect on all those untold stories. This industry behaves (for most) like in the Wild West.

    Their lobbying have consistently kept us from getting the protection European passengers have enjoyed for over 20 years. A complete shame in the name of greed.

  24. This is not a case that is eligible for IDB compensation. This passenger was on standby and was never originally confirmed on the flight. It happens often where a passengers boarding pass may have not scanned properly, and a standby being mistakingly boarded in that same seat.

  25. But then again, it is NY, and there lives some of the most miserable people on earth.

  26. On some airlines the standby list is a mix of RSB (revenue standby) and NRSA (non revenue space available). NRSA travel does not allow for any benefits or types of denied boarding compensation.

  27. The most important fact, and it’s AA that said this IN WRITING:
    “Once you are allowed to board the flight, you should have been treated as a confirmed passenger and given options for Denied Boarding”

    To clarify, for anyone that says this is NOT an IDB. Actually, AA disagrees with that and has put that in writing. The exact verbiage from the letter received yesterday by AA:

    “First, I want to extend my sincere apologies, I understand how frustrating it was to be given a seat on Flight 1444 only to find someone already occupied that seat. I know you had been cleared from the stand-by list and you were told that you were not eligible to receive Denied Boarding compensation as a stand-by passenger. However, once you are allowed to board the flight, you should have been treated as a confirmed passenger and given options for Denied Boarding.”

  28. Great story that can remind us that two different aspects of a story can be true at the same time:

    1) This dude was flying standby and you’re not confirmed if you are seated as a standby pax. Basically, until that door closes, you can be walked off at any time. Believe me, I flew standby not that long ago (on UA Express) and was holding my breath until we backed away from the gate. As a standby, you’re at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole.

    2) AA has a problem with an overabundance of nasty, rude and arrogant CSRs who are just awful to deal with. They fact that they were nasty with this guy comes as no surprise.

    So see, both sides kind of suck here. But, only one side has decades of experience shafting fliers worldwide on a daily with their famous “rolling delay”. Frittering your life away, 30 minutes at a time.

  29. My husband was bumped from a first class international flight while I was not.The only way we could fly home together was 1)miss a day of our trip; 2) overnight in New York. American Airlines did nothing. Their first response was ” you made it home didn’t you?”
    FAA can’t do anything because every time the case is presented AA gives different and bogus reasons: “your husband didn’t have time to make the connection ” ( and yet I did?) ” I voluntarily changed the seat ( I did not) — the excuses/lues go on and on. They finally said we are closing this and you aren’t getting anything.
    I just wanted my expenses reimbursed. I’ll stay home before I fly with them again.

  30. LOL people trying to milk the system and lost !!!

    @Bhn, If this soldier was CRYING … LMAO maybe they shouldn’t be defending our country!

  31. I am not sure what is unusual about this. If you are flying stand by you don’t get the same rights as a ticketed passenger, even if you get a confirmed seat. It sounds like the gate agent could have handled it better but they are correct that this happens every day. I grew up flying stand by and it’s not a right, it’s a privilege. Just because you have a confirmed seat does not mean you are suddenly a regular passenger, you are still flying stand by which means you are lower priority than other ticket holders. It sounds like some of the issue was the attitude and type of communication and entitlement here.

  32. With his name, I assume he is a nice Jewish boy. That being the case, perhaps this incident was his G-d given message that he should not be traveling on Shabbat….

  33. Ok … 2 things need to be cleared up.

    1. This was a REVENUE standby passenger. Not a non-rev … so all the people on the “its a privilege not a right” kick can sit this one out.

    2. Once they received a boarding pass they were confirmed on that flight. No matter if they bought a ticket last month or were cleared from the standby list. I am sure AA has a process to check that they did not mis-scan a boarding passes before clearing standby passengers. In the pressure to make D0, it seems this process was not followed and now we have an IDB situation

    3. yes it was an IDB.. He was not even trying to game the system, this was AA’s own fault for not following their procedures.

  34. I had one of my worst gate agent experiences at JFK with AA last year. Incredibly rude agent who didn’t want to process my standby request and when I asked politely about status told me to “go back to your seat and wait until you are called”. She ended up suspiciously clearing someone else lower on the list to the last seat and I went back to the lounge. When I told the lounge agent how rude the gate agent was she whispered to me “we have the worst gate agents here”.

  35. While the airline employees should have been nicer, the airline does not owe the passenger anything. He was standby and erroneously got cleared. He didn’t have a confirmed ticket on THAT flight…he was just given a boarding pass at the gate in error. Big difference.

  36. A few months back my sister was on American airline flight leaving out of Charlotte North Carolina going to Texas. The flight was delayed a few hours for whatever reason and once everybody was boarded they shut the doors and they pulled away from the gate. They were out on the tarmac waiting their turn in line to take off. When the captain of the flight stated they were requested to return back to the gate to pick up a passenger. I was wondering why they we’re allowed to return to the gate. My husband and I were on a flight with Delta a few years back. Our inbound flight landed with 20 minutes to spare to get to our next gate. We got to our gate as they were just shutting the door. The plane was still sitting at the assign gate but they refused to open the door to leave us on our next flight even though it was Delta’s fault that are commuting flight was late because of technical issues at a previous airport. We were told once boarding door has closed they are not allowed to reopen it. So why was American airlines sent back to pick up a person after they were already away from the gate and on the tarmac waiting to take off? We waited 8 hours to get the next flight out to where we needed to be. No compensations from Delta either

  37. My home airport, BGR, has 7 gates. I have little choice about airlines or flights so I usually end up on AA. I travel frequently with my sibling, whose home airport is PHL. Works out well since I can connect thru PHL and that’s where we can be on the same flights the rest of the trip. What’s been happening lately is AA will arbitrarily change my seat or flights. We book at the same time and well in advance to ensure our flights and seats are exactly what we need. One time AA changed my flight so there was a 29 minute connection. I’d never book that for myself plus I wasn’t on the same flights as my sister. I called them to get it changed back to the original reservation and it was such a hassle! Like they were doing me a big favor fixing the problem they created for me. Another time they randomly changed her seat so we were no longer sitting together on the longest leg of the trip. If I book months in advance to get my reservation exactly the way it needs to be, I’m more than a little annoyed to have it changed without my knowledge or permission. Now I watch my bookings like a hawk so they don’t make a change I don’t notice until it’s too late to fix.

  38. Standby pax cannot be invols. There was clearly a mistake made when clearing standby but that doesn’t give the standby pax the same rights as a confirmed pax.

  39. @Tim ja You said:

    “@Bhn, If this soldier was CRYING … LMAO maybe they shouldn’t be defending our country”

    Soldiers are human beings. You have no idea what was going on in this young person’s life. She could have been on their way home because her husband or child had died, or since we do not know the year, they could have just witnessed the death or deaths of fellow squad members. Yet here you sit in your comfy armchair denigrating someone who protects your freedom. Nice.

  40. American Airlines
    On 3/22/24 My wife and I were scheduled to fly from Cancun to Dallas on Flight 1723. It was supposed to depart at 5:30pm and we had a connecting flight in Dallas to get us home to Los Angeles. The flight faced several delays due to mechanical issues…. Eventually the flight was cancelled and we were taken to a hotel. By the time we checked into the room, it was 11pm, and we were tired. The following morning now 3/23/24, we were told to be downstairs by 6am as our flight was set to fly out at 9am. While all of us were downstairs waiting on boarding the bus (mind you, we didn’t get breakfast ans barely got dinner since it was so late), we kept seeing our app update us that the flight time was changed. By the time we left the hotel, the flight was changed from 9am to 10:30am, by the time we arrived at the airport it had changed to 11:30am. We kept having to change our connection flight… what a headache…. and we also lost pay by missing a days work. While waiting at the airport, we kept getting told that the part needed to fix the plane would arrive, and that the flight was delayed till 2:30pm now. At that point people started looking at other options to get home, including myself. I was able to secure 2 seats on AA flight 2160 that was supposed to depart Cancun ro LAX at 4:30pm. However… that didn’t happen…. that flight was met with a delay and rescheduled to 9pm. Immediately I was concerned that we would be stuck once again in Cancun overnight. The previous flight (AA1723) was again delayed overnight and people were leaving for the hotel again at 4:30pm and we were met with all kinds of excuses as to why and it seemed that our new flight might not leave that night either. However, at 9pm, we were able to depart after a very long and stressful day in Cancun. Also, we were offered 2 meal vouchers for 15.00 each at the airport… ehat can you buy with 15.00? Lol

    When we arrived at LAX on 3/24/24 at 1am…. we were informed at 2:30am that our bags didn’t make it. We were told they would come.the next day and delivered to our house… so we waited 2 extra days for our luggage… I informed the employee that my work gear was in those bags and what could I do… she told me “just call off work” mind you I had to be at work that day at 11am and i dont get PTO, and I already lost a days wage.

    I then had to drive all the way home to Lancaster to get replacement clothes from home (instead of staying near work) and luckily found a Turners open by my house on a Sunday to get a replacement holster, and barely made it to work on time after a night of virtually no sleep.

    I emailed American Airlines…. no response for several days… when I finally got a response…. you guys asked me to submit my reciepts for food for reimbursement. Ummm…. hi, it was over a 24 hour delay and I lost pay… plus I am entitled to more than just food reimbursement… everything else was ignored… and you guys don’t seem to care about the lost wages, the added expenses, the loss of sleep and luggage and peace of mind….

    On 4/6/24…. 2 weeks since the flight…. My initial email was sent to your customer service on 3/24/24 and the first reply was 4/2/24 by Jiggs Murray saying only food will be reimbursed with reciepts… I immediately replied that it was inadequate and the DOT outlines compensation. Zero response.

    On 4/14/2024 I was offered 75.00 flight credit for my “inconvenience”

  41. This was in my feed for a *standby* passenger, who runs a travel website? This is how sites get blocked from my feed. Documenting the oppression of platinum members are already barely worth reading.

  42. File all the complaints you want. Every federal agency takes your complaint, forwards over to who you complain about, the company responds and defends its actions, and then the federal agency forwards their response to you and calls the case closed.
    You see federal agencies don’t give a crap about the consumer either.

  43. If I had a dollar for every apologist.

    IDB is IDB. It doesn’t matter when you booked what ticket for what flight. If you’ve been provided a boarding pass and have boarded the flight and then are deplaned, that’s IDB.

    “I’d be fine if IDB rules were changed ” Nobody cares if you’re fine.
    “This is not a case that is eligible for IDB compensation.” Please do stop making up stuff. You’re wrong.
    “If you are flying stand by you don’t get the same rights as a ticketed passenger, even if you get a confirmed seat” More made up stuff.

    Please, if the best you can contribute is YOUR OWN PERSONAL OPINION OF HOW THINGS OUGHT TO WORK at least make it clear this is YOUR OWN PERSONAL OPINION and has absolutely nothing to do with IDB, airline policies, regulations, etc. Also keep in mind US regulaions and EU regulations are vastly different so ensure when you spout off you identify which regiion of know-nothing you’re spouting off about.

    I don’t list my “resume” of flights so feel free to assume I’ve never flown.

  44. You people loyal to AA realize that Spirit Airline customers are treated better? AA treats you like crap and expects you to take it, and you do!

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