Paycheck Chronicles

What Happens When You're on Official Travel and the Flight Is Overbooked?

All Gates signpost at Los Angeles Airport

If you've flown recently, you may have noticed that many airlines are routinely overbooking flights and asking for volunteers to give up their seats and take a later flight.

The offers they make are tempting: usually a seat on the next flight to your destination plus a voucher for a few hundred dollars that you can use at a later time. Depending on how overbooked they are, and how willing people are to give up their seats, you could get a voucher worth anywhere from $300 to $600.

If you're like most of us, the majority of the flights you take are for work. If you are on temporary duty, what exactly are you allowed to do? Can you give up your seat to take the free flight voucher they offer? Will you get an extra day of per diem? Will you have to turn the voucher over to the government? The answer varies.

If you are involuntarily bumped from a full flight, any compensation offered by the airline belongs to the government. However, if the delay forced you to incur additional costs, you can be reimbursed for them with per diem and lodging.

If you voluntarily give up your seat, you can keep any payments, free travel vouchers etc. that the airline offers you. However, if the delay causes you to incur additional expenses, the Joint Travel Regulations say you're personally responsible for paying those extra costs.

This is according to the good folks at the Defense Travel Management Office (DTMO).

Usually, if you're on official business, you won't be bumped. This is because government fliers typically pay more for their tickets than others, and airlines tend to bump the people who paid less first. However, if you are bumped, DTMO says that any compensation you are given belongs to Uncle Sam. You should go to the ticket agent to explain the situation and tell them they need to make a check out to the U.S. Treasury for the amount of compensation. Good luck making that happen!

There are more rules about how much you must be compensated if you are bumped on the Department of Transportation's website.

If you voluntarily give up your seat, make sure you understand exactly how long a voucher is good for. Many expire within 6 to 12 months. Also, remember you won't be getting any extra per diem and, if you have to stay overnight, you are responsible for any lodging costs. You also don't want to get back to your command a day late unless you have a good reason; you could be charged with unauthorized absence or be forced to take a day of leave.

So before you raise your hand after hearing, "we're looking for volunteers to give up their seat," you should consider the impact to your mission and your wallet.

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