CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State employees involuntarily bumped from flights while traveling on state business generally can keep whatever compensation the airline gives them, the West Virginia Ethics Commission ruled Thursday.
The issue came up after a government employee returning from an out-of-state conference was bumped from an overbooked flight from the conference city. The airline could not arrange any alternate itineraries, since all connecting flights into Charleston that day were booked.
Ultimately, the airline flew the woman to Pittsburgh, where she had to call a friend to pick her up and drive her home. As compensation, the airline gave her a check for $1,084, or 400 percent of the one-way airfare, as mandated under federal Department of Transportation regulations.
In her request for the advisory opinion, the state employee asked whether she could consider that personal compensation, or whether the money belongs to the state.
"I look at it as a form of liquidated damages for the annoyance and inconvenience that is personal to the individual," Commissioner Kemp Morton said, defending the employee's right to keep the cash.
He compared it to an airline employee dropping a suitcase on the woman's foot -- she would be entitled to any compensation for the injury, not the state.
In approving the advisory opinion, commissioners left open circumstances where the compensation could be due the state agency that purchased the ticket.
"The question is, who suffered the majority of the inconvenience? I would say, leave that to the discretion of the agency," said Commissioner Jon Turak.
In the case at hand, the woman was traveling on a Saturday. However, Turak said that if a state employee were bumped from an early morning flight, preventing him from returning to work that day as scheduled, there could be an argument that the agency, not the employee, had suffered the greater inconvenience.