The Hidden Cost of Volunteering to Be Bumped


They reel you in with promises of $400 in free travel and food vouchers, and that’s all fine and dandy. There’s a lot of things I’m willing to endure for a free trip to a destination of my choosing, and the prospect of being on an oversold flight isn’t very appetizing to begin with. But the real price of volunteering to be bumped from a flight is measured in the mind-numbing boredom you experience waiting for your new flight. Which explains why I’m sitting at an airport bar at 7 in the morning.

I started the day on an American flight out of Columbia, South Carolina (CAE), having been out late with some new friends who work for a local manufacturing company that I had flown down to see and write about their factory. The plan had me back in San Antonio by 1 PM, with a quick layover in Dallas. As big as DFW airport is, I still like it very much better than Delta’s ATL hub. Something about that place just feels… dirty. That could be a result of a rather disgusting hamburger I had there when I visited AAC a while back.

That was all about to change. The flight on American was oversold, and e gate agent was looking for volunteers to take a later flight in exchange for a $400 flight voucher. I didn’t have to be back at work anytime soon, so I jumped on it. After all, I have all my camera and computer gear with me, so worst case scenario I could do a little work from the airport. I was expecting to be put on the very next American Eagle flight out of this small airport, but instead they booked me on a Delta flight. The gate agent at American assured me that I would actually be landing in San Antonio 45 minutes ahead of my original plan, and that sounded great to me. Free money AND I was going to get back early!

Delta had other plans.

Delta isn’t doing so hot this morning. They’ve already cancelled one flight out of CAE, and the other two that are scheduled to depart are severely delayed. As in, over an hour. Which means not only am I delayed here in CAE, but I have another four hours to spend in my least favorite airport in the United States. For the record, it’s still a shorter layover than my six hour marathon a few years back in the same airport.

My only consolation is that AmEx gets me into the club of whatever airline I’m flying (or so the card claims), so I won’t be forced to try and find a free (and working) outlet in the airport to plug my gear into (of which there might be two). But, given my luck, there’s probably some red tape around that too.

Still worth the $400? Probably. But the day is far from over . . .

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