First Class Passengers Pool Their Money, Pay Up When American Airlines Overbooks Flight

Wednesday’s American Airlines flight 2484 from Las Vegas to Philadelphia had about two dozen more passengers than they could fly. The airline started offering vouchers to people that would give up their seat, but they weren’t getting enough volunteers. So first class passengers reportedly took matters into their own hands, started a collection, and topped off American’s offer so that passengers would get off of the flight and they could leave.

Generally an airline can involuntarily deny boarding to passengers and assuming an overnight delay that will cost them:

  • 400% of the cost of a passenger’s ticket
  • but not to exceed $1,550

Airlines want people to volunteer for lower amounts, and most airlines prefer to give out their own scrip than pay out cash. Plus they don’t want to run up the statistics of how many passenger’s they’re involuntarily denying travel to.

After the David Dao incident, where a United Express passenger was dragged off a plane by airport police and bloodied, airlines began going to great lengths to avoid involuntary bumps – paying out big compensation (in some cases up to $10,000 in travel vouchers) to avoid it. They’ve gotten less generous since then, and most have cut back substantially since the start of the pandemic.

According to contemporaneous text messages from a passenger,

  • American Airlines had reportedly topped out at offering a hotel room for the night and $1,150 in future travel.

  • Around that time four volunteers were still needed to get off of the legacy US Airways Airbus A321 flight. Wanting to just depart, first class passengers pooled $200 in cash to top off and get the last passengers to volunteer to be bumped.

It’s unusual in the extreme for passengers to go around collecting money from each other so that they have enough cash to get on their way. Although it’s not unheard of!

Five years ago passengers on a LOT Polish flight had to come up with the cash to pay for repairs. And in 2012 an Air France flight bound for Beirut diverted to Damascas and passengers were forced to come up with cash for additional fuel. The pilot couldn’t use a company credit card because of financial sanctions imposed on Syria.

Another passenger reports that American was having difficulty finding the volunteers it needed on this Las Vegas – Philadelphia flight because those who took a bump wouldn’t get any checked luggage back that night, and because “the agent also threatened to pull all vouchers if the last people” revealed how much they were getting to passengers who had taken lower amounts earlier on.

I was a bit skeptical of the story but it comes from two different passengers and it does seem reasonable that (1) passengers got frustrated on this flight out of Vegas and someone suggested passing the hat, (2) that they even collected $200 from 20 passengers total in the cabin, and (3) maybe someone even offered it to a passenger?

I’ve reached out to American Airlines for a comment on passengers passing the hat to come up with enough money so that they could leave, and will update if they respond.

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. I put that flight number (American Airlines flight 2484) in Google and it says that flight is from TPA to DFW. I was trying to find the equipment so I would know how many first class seats there were and how many coach seats there were. Two dozen bumps sounds high. $200 from 20 first class passengers or $10 per on average sounds about right. Probably most funds were from just a few. Maybe the hat should have been passed in coach where more people are more likely to be a bit generous.

  2. This makes no sense and I’m guessing there’s more to the story. If there were not enough volunteers then IDBs would follow. There’s no need for other pax to get involved.

  3. “I’ve reached out to American Airlines for a comment on passengers passin….”

    Erm….maybe reach out BEFORE you post a fantastic story?

    Or maybe you want to be the Daily Mirror of aviation blogs.

  4. Thank you, Gary, for advising readers that an American Airlines gate agent in Las Vegas issued future flight vouchers in exchange for volunteering to take a future flight. However, after passengers received payment, the American Airlines gate agent threatened to invalidate the previously published flight coupon given to volunteers “if the last people revealed how much they were getting to passengers who had taken lower amounts earlier on.”

    As a condition of carriage, the Department of Transportation does not require passengers to sign a confidentiality agreement with American Airlines when volunteering to take a later flight or receiving denied boarding compensation. Accordingly, when I am issued a flight voucher, what authority authorizes the American Airlines gate agent to invalidate all previously issued settlements because another passenger disclosed the amount of payment they received?

  5. While I realize that it’s nothing new for airlines to overbooked some flights… 24 overbooked seems awfully excessive. More like a recipe for a complete mess, which is what it ended up being. There should be some regulatory control on limits… even to overbook.

  6. @Ken,
    You expect America West to know and moreover, comply with the law?

    You should expect better (worse?) from the company that doesn’t give a flying fig (or olive) about customers or anything else.

  7. Airlines need to suck it up and quit overlooking flights! By 20 people??!! People who buy a ticket should be assured they’ll have a seat. No -shows don’t get their money back! Why should customers let them profit extra by super-inconveniencing their customers?? Refusing to give them what they PAID for??

  8. @FlyOften – I expected America West to know and comply with regulations even though sometimes they did not. Still, years later, and after mergers, American Airlines was issued the current FAA operating certificate to market and operate this flight. Reading about an American Airlines gate agent knowingly hoodwinking passengers about invalidating their volunteer compensation settlements is a deplorable scam. I assume American Airlines cares about its passengers. I hope Gary will receive a response from American Airlines management regarding the issue of compelling some passengers to comply with executing a non-disclosure agreement before they can receive their volunteer or denied boarding compensation.

  9. The greedy airlines and greedy politicians would not address this issue. If an airline overbook you then they should return the cash value immediately instead of holding in to passengers money by issuing a voucher that will be void in a year. So who is basically winning? The corrupt airlines and politicians they lobby for. Disgusting.

  10. Aloha I’m a local disabled person with a son that has a disability traveled to USA last year our return home flight was American Airlines we received unfair service bad attitudes even from the agent supervisor Austin to San Diego they did not resolve the problem in a adult mannerly way I called the Airlines to put my complaints they said they will give us one free trip to USA to be used in a year hoping they will keep their word on this matter…have any suggestions if I encounter any difficulties your assistance is great appreciated Aloha

  11. Airlines should not be allowed to involuntarily deny boarding. I don’t care how much it costs,they need to pay whatever it takes to get people to agree to be bumped. The airline created their own problem by selling too many seats.

  12. I was on the flight. It wasn’t overbooked. The weather conditions forced us to use a shorter runway. Between that, the fuel and the tailwinds, we were overweight. It is true. The 1st Class passengers collected $200 and handed it to the next 2 passengers to volunteer to exit.

  13. Reading the article sent me to researching AA bumping policy. I had not realized that AA no longer gives everyone the same compensation.

  14. @Oliver – yeah, that caught my interest too… getting the same amount makes sense, or else no one would begin to volunteer, holding out for more.
    @Gary – when did that change, or was that an agent making up their own rules?

  15. Maybe the aircraft was changed to a smaller one which could.noy accommodate all the original people booked?

  16. With all the credits in Gary’s column (figurative), comes this story hinting it was composed by a cub reporter.
    American will know nothing about cash between passengers, so of course there will be no official reply.
    When incentives are increased, most likely each passenger would be told to keep their mouth shut while at the counter OR the PA system broadcast what the payout would be. I’ve heard $200 vouchers then $400 vouchers myself.
    There was a flight listed by a commentor said it was not the route flown.
    The question of was a smaller plane used seems logical.
    And $10 per 1st class passenger sounds cheap.
    Some of the story is heresay IMO, and does not ooz profession traveler. Not even flying a desk

  17. American doesn’t even honor vouchers they give out as compensation for you giving up a seat when they are oversold. We were able to offer our seats for additional first class vouchers. When we booked economy later and tried to use vouchers A/A denied the upgrade. Very sorry for all the folks that have to fly A/A. Even though we are in the “elite” group and have Admiral club, we avoid A/A unless they are the only carrier serving our destination.

  18. Has anyone had this or similar experience?

    I just flew lax to LHR on Virgin, Thurs 25 May. Vs 24. I am a tour guide and had 34 people on the flight, of which 2 friends who had booked together in business. This was their first time in business class and they had been soooo excited, having spent thousands ££££ roundtrip.

    Allegedly the airplane was changed to a smaller plane and many seat allocations were changed (including mine in economy:
    one of the 2 friends was involuntarily downgraded to PE and roundtrip business class ticket offered. Obviously they were upset.
    They said they had booked together and why them? and before separating them airline should have approached all single travellers.
    Agent said they had been busy all day contacting people offering them next day flights etc: but had NOT reached out to my friends.
    Checkin agent then asked if both would travel PE, and when they said yes in exchange for 2 roundtrip business tickets, he agreed: with me as witness. When he went to ticket everything he backtracked and offered only 1 comp ticket saying the other was voluntary downgrade so would get nothing.

    Is this normal? Can the agents make an agreement and then renege on it?

    In the end virgin found other single travellers to downgrade and gave them both business seats but the stress ruined their lounge experience and their anticipation for a once in lifetime business class travel.

    Can they get any compensation for that?

    What was strange was I was asking flight attendants about the change of plane and was told there had been NO change, and this aircraft had always been scheduled for this day!

    That seems so strange, getting a diff rent story on the ground, and lots of people rebooked to other days or downgraded.

    What could have happened?

    Thanks for reading and for any replies. I have never had that before!

  19. I recently volunteered to be bumped on a Delta flight from SEA to LAX. The check-in screen asked how much I wanted to be bumped, and as always, I chose the highest available option, $800. Once I got to the gate, the gate agent was offering $1,000 for volunteers. (I have no idea why they ever ask what you want on the check-in screen because they always seem to ignore my answer.) I said I’d take the offer, and the gate agent told me I should hang out and wait to see if I would be needed to volunteer. He also said that if he had to raise the amount to entice other volunteers, I would get the highest final offer, which stands in stark contrast to what this American gate agent said. There appeared to be over 20 people waiting for volunteers to be bumped from a sold out flight, but thanks to absurdly long TSA lines and a massively long walk to the gate, plenty of people missed the flight and volunteers were never needed.

  20. It was American Airlines flight 2482 not 2484. Another source indicated that the problem wasn’t overbooking as there were originally 4 standby passengers with tickets. The problem was overweight in Las Vegas on a 95 degree Fahrenheit day. A total of 27 passengers had to give up seats including the 4 standby passengers. 19 had agreed to terms and 4 were standby passengers so 4 more had to give up seats. Maybe or maybe not the $200 was given to them but eventually 4 more gave up seats. Two versions of this aircraft have 16 first class passengers and the other version has 10 per SeatGuru. 20 first class passengers in the cabin is not possible. Now some things make sense. American Airlines probably should have probably just cut down on fuel and refueled on the way with an unannounced pit stop. Everybody flies and gets there a bit late. Blame it on weather which is really what it was.

  21. Are they allowed to offer points instead of flight credit and if so do they still have a maximum amount they are allowed to issue?

  22. Donald Trump will fix problem! MAKE AMERICAN AIRLINE GREAT AGAIN! They should jail American pilot! American plane Boewing is used to bring illegal immigrints to USA, we need to punish USA airlines. Desnatis should pass law for pilot to check all passport before fly. Make Airline Grear Again!!

  23. Recently a Delta flight from SLC to FCA was overbooked by 7 people. The price was raised until 7 people agreed to a flight the next day. Everyone received the final offer which was $2k in gift cards of your choice and a hotel stay.

  24. My biggest issue with the situation (holes in the stores aside) is the threat to void issued flight credits. That’s what we call fraud in the legal industry. AA induced someone to part with something of value, their seat, after successfully inducing that action taking back the indictment would make the act fraud. Further, it would void the secondary contract, flight at a later time, because it would remove the consideration. The whole thing would put AA at risk of litigation it would have limited ability to defend (even an arbitration would likely result in an adverse outcome for AA because the act of voiding the vouchers is so obviously unfair) AND it would likely result in DOT poking around to find out how often this is done…you NEVER give the government reason to inspect your records beyond “routine” because they will ALWAYS find something in them you’d rather they not know about. And all of this is after the PR issue.

    Second, if it was a weight issue and not a true overbook (a change in equipment seems more likely because of the number of passengers involved) then removing the luggage would have been prudent. In fact, AA could have saved itself a LOT of headache simply by pulling one of the containers and having an employee shrug their shoulders on the other end knowing the luggage would come in on later flights. Removing an entire section of luggage would be cheaper and faster and more certain to result in a safe weight than vacating seats and flying that way. As it could be done without alerting ANY passenger, if this was actually a weight issue, I cannot imagine AA pulling passengers…you don’t get news stories or blog posts over list luggage. You do over passengers passing the hat.

  25. Why would anyone bail them out when AA decides to cheap out with $1150 in AAscrip?

    Let AA pay $1500 cash bump comp. per person and maybe they will see the light. Also the stupidity of not offering everyone the highest bump comp just encourages holdouts. And aren’t they required to offload luggage per TSA rules?

    I would pay $200 myself to disincentivize passengers from accepting the offer, just for the entertainment value of watching AA eat thousands cash instead of scrip. And then write it up to send to management and media. Management stupidity should not be rewarded.

  26. Airlines still remain at the top of the list as the worst run corporations EVER !

  27. Looks like it’s time for AA and its affiliated airlines to procure some of those new Airbus A321XLRs with better fuel efficiency, longer range, better takeoff performance, better landing performance , etcetera.

  28. When does the Airline BS stop. They new they overbooked and then want to not be responsible for their mistakes. If each person on that flight were required to be a given a refund for delays and inconvenience the non sense will stop! I hate government interventions however if you have flown lately the airlines are run like a comedy TV series not a business.
    I had a group of 49 people stuck, some for entire week, because America failed their customers and they have refuse reimbursement of expenses they want everyone to take a $250. airline credit.
    Word of advise in todays world do not travel without insurance.

  29. Delta consistently has the lowest involuntary denied boarding ratio among US airlines. They empower their people to avoid chaos and make people happy….and sometimes rich

  30. @Elspeth

    I’ll trust your judgement on the legal issues re: fraud, but on the ops side, I’m sorry to say that you’re off the mark.

    First, there aren’t “[baggage] containers to pull” on any narrow body aircraft configured for passenger service. It’s all just “bulk” cargo… e.g., load the bags one by one. The A321 does have a cargo configuration that takes pallets, but they don’t carry people.

    Second, airlines typically have policies that say they will bump the people before they bump the bags, probably because when it comes down to it, 1 person = ~6 bags or so. 6 mishandled bags is more costly than one passenger, especially if you can get them to VDB. Point being, most front line gate agents aren’t empowered to “make an exception” like you suggest here.

    Third, your math simply doesn’t work. 24 passengers = ~150 bags (assuming 190 lbs/pax and 30 lbs/bag). So if you wanted to keep the people and dump the bags, it’s entirely possible they’d have to offload *all* passenger bags to make the weight come out right. I just don’t see any airline brass thinking taking 150 mishandled baggage claims is a smart move.

  31. One thing I’ve never been explained, if the plane is full with paying customers or with redeemed miles, why do they need volunteers to come off?

  32. People have to realize…..many times it’s NOT overbooking. It’s a weight restriction/cap issue. This can be caused by weather/head winds/heavy cargo that has priority and needs to fly. Ive been on flights where 2 volunteers were requested…. And after they agreed and we finished boarding the plane there were almost 35 open seats!!
    I was told it was a load planning issue put of the airline’s control. There are many thongs that can go into these situations.

  33. See the comment from Brian on May 28 @ 3:36. He was in the flight and gives a factual representation of the incident.

    It wasn’t overbooked. It was due to storms and being on a shorter runway so they had weight and balance issues and had to remove passengers. Definitely makes more sense than being overbooked by 24 people.

    Where is the validation process in a story?

  34. American Airlines is the worst airline in the world…. I’ve had better customer service from ryanair…

    We were stranded for ~9 hrs in dfw after 4 plane swaps, 5th plane gets towed in and we start moving….engine gave out during taxi… we taxied back for another 1.5 hour mechanical delay.

    While I’d prefer a safe and assured aircraft than a rushed maintenance job, I missed a family member’s quinceneria and was stranded on my second leg (bus transportation). I learned my lesson and will definitely be traveling days before a major event because of AA’s incompetence in completing a 2.5 hour flight on time….

    Also, the cherry on top was the laughable compensation with a WHOPPING 5000 miles for the “minor inconvenience”.

  35. Airlines book based on the average of misses on a particular flight.

    Not buying that a 95 degree weather caused a load and balancing issue. That’s nothing for Las Vegas. I know the a321 have power issues (check hnl-phx) but the last Vegas runway is long enough.

  36. Still can’t lay off the references to everyones favorite convicted drug pusher, The Dao. You’re always finding a way to slip it in, no matter how irrelevant or strained the reference.

  37. Many years ago the Saturday morning flights from Phila to Orlando were always overbooked as families were on their way to Disney World with kids. Myself and one or two friends would book fully refundable flights from Philly to Orlando on the Saturday morning flights. Drink into Friday night and head down to the airport check in early and put our names in to give up our seats for a very nice compensation reward. Got to the point where the gate agents would see us coming and put our names in to give up our seats and if our seats were not needed they would let us know way ahead of time that seats were not going to be needed and not to hang around.

    We would turn in the fully refundable tickets and repeat the following Friday. Went on a lot of vacations with free airfare back then.

  38. I am the person who started the Flyertalk thread. Two co-workers and a friend of my brother’s were on the flight. As noted twice above, due to a shortened runway 26L in LAS due to construction, heat and winds and the LUS Airbus 321, they had to remove 27 people, not including the 4 NRSA standby’s removed before asking for volunteers. The use of the LUS 321 was due to rolling plane swaps all day as the CLT originator took off and returned to LAS, and they just kept swapping 321’s all day to keep from cancelling after the big ICSC convention. IT WAS NOT OVERBOOKED!

    My co-worker would have taken the offer but the lack of getting bags kept her from doing it, plus they couldn’t guarantee getting her to PHL until Saturday.

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