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We all have our mental checklist when preparing for a trip. Toothbrush? Check. Contact lenses? Yes. Latest Grisham novel? First thing in the bag. But with modern travel, there’s another item that smart travelers should add to the list: Plan B.

According to the Department of Transportation, the rate of passengers who were involuntarily pulled from flights was 1.09 per 10,000 passengers in 2010. While getting bumped can be voluntary or involuntary, and there are rules and policies that govern each. A little background information, though, can help smooth the “bumps” in the process.

Understanding your options

The voluntary bumps or “VDBs” (voluntarily denied boardings), occur when the airline thinks there will be too few seats for the number of people checked in. Airlines will usually offer incentives such as a free trip, upgrade, airline club access or hotel accommodations. They’re all potentially good offers, but before accepting, be sure you have all the pertinent information:

• When will the next alternate flight depart?

• If you wait several hours for the next, will you be on time for your destination?

• Is it worth it waiting all day for a flight to get a free flight?

• Will the airline provide meals, hotel and ground transportation? If they don’t you may end up paying.

• Do you run the risk of being put on stand-by?

Involuntary bumps or “IDBs” occur when no one volunteers to give up seating but the flight is overbooked. The first passengers chosen to wait are those who paid the least for their ticket. If there’s no seat assignment made at the time the ticket is purchased, that’s a good indication that you’re likely to be bumped. Frequent flier program tier members are less likely to be selected. But don’t feel too bad about being the “low man on the totem pole.” The compensation for IDBs usually makes for a fast recovery. Here’s the low-down:

• Up to $1,300 for domestic flights if you arrive at your destination more than two hours past schedule.

• Up to $650 if you arrive within one to two hours of the scheduled time.

• An immediate payment is due to frequent flier passengers; and they can insist on a check rather than a voucher, which is a free round-trip ticket.

• No compensation is awarded if you arrive at your destination within one hour of original time.

• Compensation is based on the lowest price paid for the ticket in the same class of service, whether charged, paid in cash or by check.

Whether you are an IDB or a VDB, you will have to wait until the original flight is closed out before an agent is able to help. With luck, a passenger may not show up and another seat will become available. If not, head to the gate agent to receive compensation and schedule your next flight.

‘Bump free’ flying

There are a several ways that you can enjoy hassle-free” tracks;

• Do business only with carriers that do not practice overbooking. For IDB rankings, visit the Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement website at airconsumer.dot.gov.

• Join your favorite carrier’s frequent flier program. Repeat business and loyalty are rewarded.

• Avoid peak travel days during the week, and peak seasonal times. The days before Thanksgiving and Christmas are the worst.

• And finally there is the age-old wisdom: the early bird really does get the worm. Arrive early (a couple hours, when possible) and book far in advance.

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