Scout’s Tips: Overbooked Flights


Recently I was happy to share the new Passenger’s Bill of Rights. Part of those regulations by the DOT was supposed to reduce over booking and involuntary bumping. Ironically right after that post one of our readers was faced with that situation on their flight. Here’s that comment:

Scout, I really appreciate your tips!  We’ve just experienced the “overbooking” situation and now I’m on a quest to see what I can do to prevent it in the future.  We don’t fly much and had little experience, so it was quite a shock to learn we “may” get bumpted off our flight, even though it was paid for 8 months ago.  The next flight out wasn’t for another 2 days!!  Oh, my husband was livid.  Even when using Expedia, (which I think helped a little because phone calls were made) I have learned there is no guarentee.  Fortunately we made the flight, but one of us had steam coming out his ears for a long time after.  There is much I need to learn in this area.  One thing I know, I’ll not be using that airline again!!  Do you have any other tips for newbies like us??

As a result We made some calls and sent some emails and this was what we were able to find out:

Delta Airlines said they try very hard not to bump anyone who has checked in and has their reservation in advance. However, they admit that they do over book flights. They have found that on most flights there will be “no-shows”, passengers with confirmed reservations who either change their travel plans or for some other reason decide not to take the flight and often neglect to notify the airline. In order to keep costs contained it is in the best interest of the airline and the traveling customer to have these seats filled.

The Delta representative said they always ask for volunteers and actually have  a Bid System in place for when they are overbooked. They don’t know if a flight will be overbooked untill everyone has checked in. At that time the last people to check in are the ones targeted to be bumped if there are no volunteers to give up their seats.

Just another good reason besides the possible hassles and delays at security to arrive early.

American Airlines , probably in accordance with the new  Passenger Bill of Rights, actually has their  over booking policy disclosed on their website. You do have to dig a little to find it but it is there and it is quite similar to Delta’s policy.

Flights with Oversales

American Airlines and American Eagle, like most airlines, overbook flights. We do this because historical information shows that some people do not cancel their reservations when they change their travel plans. Overbooking is done in the best interest of both customers and the airline. Without the revenue produced by filling seats that would otherwise go empty, every airline would have to compensate by raising fares. And just as important, selling our seats in this manner allows us to say “yes” rather than “no” a lot more often when customers call for a seat on the flight of their choice. Just because a flight is overbooked, it does not necessarily mean that customers with reservations will not be accommodated on their flight. The overwhelming majority of overbooked flights depart with all customers who have reservations and are present for departure.

If at departure time more customers with confirmed reservations are present than there are seats available, gate agents will first ask for volunteers who are willing to give up their seats in exchange for compensation and a confirmed seat on a later flight. On extremely rare occasions, a customer may be denied boarding on an involuntary basis, if a sufficient number of volunteers are not obtained. In such events, we will usually deny boarding based upon check-in time, but we may also consider factors such as severe hardships, fare paid, and status within the AAdvantage program. With few exceptions, persons denied boarding involuntarily are entitled to compensation under federal law.

Additional information concerning our overbooking policies can be found in our conditions of carriage. Upon request, reservations representatives or airport agents will advise you if your flight is overbooked at the time your reservation is made or during airport check-in. Bear in mind that, as stated above, most overbooked flights do in fact have sufficient seats to accommodate all customers who are present for departure.

Continental Airlines was the hardest to get information about. Thier website does not supply a contact # for customer service but rather has a “virtual assistant”. You plug-in a question and the “assistant” responds. When we plugged in Over Booked flight policy we were supplied a link to Continental Inc, Contract of Carriage. We waded through 23 pages of “legalese” before we found the information we were looking for under the obscure Heading of “Denied Boarding Compensation”

I am taking the liberty of reprinting it here: As you can see, compared to Delta and America, Continental has cloaked their policy in tons of hard to follow paragraphs instead of just straight forward information. We were not amused.  On the good side, if you do take the time to wade through the mess, it does spell out the pecking order for bumping and compensation.



A) Denied Boarding (U.S.A. Flight Origin) – When there is an Oversold CO flight that originates in the U.S.A., the following provisions apply:

1) Request for Volunteers

      1. CO will request Passengers who are willing to relinquish their confirmed reserved space in exchange for compensation in an amount determined by CO. If a Passenger is asked to volunteer, CO will not later deny boarding to that Passenger involuntarily unless that Passenger was informed at the time he was asked to volunteer that there was a possibility of being denied boarding involuntarily and of the amount of compensation to which he/she would have been entitled in that event. The request for volunteers and the selection of such person to be denied space will be in a manner determined solely by CO.
      2. In exchange for voluntarily relinquishing confirmed reserved space on CO, CO may, at its option compensate the Passenger with credit valid for transportation on CO in lieu of monetary compensation. The transportation credit will be valid only for travel on CO or designated Codeshare partners for one year from the date of issue and will have no refund value.
      3. 2) Boarding Priorities – If a flight is Oversold, no one may be denied boarding against his/her will until CO or other carrier personnel first ask for volunteers who will give up their reservations willingly in exchange for compensation as determined by CO. If there are not enough volunteers, other Passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with CO’s boarding priority:
      4. Passengers who are Qualified Individuals with Disabilities, unaccompanied minors under the age of 12 years, or minors between the ages of 12 and 17 who use the unaccompanied minor service, will be the last to be involuntarily denied boarding if it is determined by CO that such denial would constitute a hardship.
      5. ngers who qualify for Presidential Platinum Elite status, as determined by CO in accordance with CO’s OnePass Program Rules (see for details) will be prioritized for boarding over all other Passengers, excepting circumstances described in 2) a) above.
      6. Passengers who hold a seat assignment will be prioritized for boarding over passengers without a seat assignment, regardless of check-in order.
      7. The priority of all other Passengers will be determined in the order in which they present themselves for check-in in accordance with CO’s rules.
      8. 3) Transportation for Passengers Denied Boarding – When CO is unable to provide previously confirmed space due to an Oversold flight, CO will provide transportation to such Passengers who have been denied boarding whether voluntarily or involuntarily in accordance with the provisions below.
      9. CO will transport the Passenger on its own flight to the Destination without Stopover on its next flight on which space is available at no additional cost to the Passenger, regardless of class of service.


  • If space is available on another Carrier’s flight regardless of class of service, such flights may be used upon Passenger’s request and at no additional cost to the Passenger only if such flight provides an earlier arrival than the CO flight offered in 3) a) above.
  • 4) Compensation for Passengers Denied Boarding Involuntarily
  • For passengers traveling between points within the United States, subject to the exceptions in section c) below, CO shall pay compensation to Passengers denied boarding involuntarily from an Oversold Flight at the rate of 200% of the fare to the Passenger’s first Stopover or, if none, Destination, with a maximum of USD 650 if CO offers Alternate Transportation that, at the time the arrangement is made, is planned to arrive at the Passenger’s Destination or first Stopover more than one hour but less than two hours after the planned arrival time of the Passenger’s original flight; and if CO offers Alternate Transportation that, at the time the arrangement is made, is planned to arrive at the Passenger’s Destination or first Stopover more than two hours after the planned arrival time of the Passenger’s original flight, CO shall pay compensation to Passengers denied boarding involuntarily from an Oversold Flight at the rate of 400% of the fare to the Passenger’s first Stopover or, if none, Destination with a maximum of USD 1300.



  • Arrive at the airport early. Most domestic flights suggest that you check in 30 minutes prior to boarding. Our suggestion, plan on a minimum of one hour. You can always browse the duty-free shops to kill time. Most airports today are modern with many amenities to help you pass the time.
  • When booking your flight take the time to enroll in your airline’s frequent flyer program even if you don’t think you will ever fly with them again. Having the FF # often will get you a discount  at the car rental and , from what we’ve  found here, provide another layer of protection if a flight is over booked.
  • Over booking happens most often on Monday and Friday flights. Although all flights are routinely over sold, the odds of an overbooking situation develop more often before and after weekends when travelers need to get to a destination in a hurry or return home for work in a hurry.
  • Over booking often becomes a problem around Holidays, especially the major holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

Well, That’s about it for another of Scout’s Tips. That was a great question and we’re really sorry this happened to you especially where you are not seasoned travelers. Getting bumped, missed connections and other travel mishaps do happen no matter how hard you try to avoid them but when it’s your dream vacation and you aren’t used to it, it can really put a damper on your travel.

Scout hopes the rest of your vacation is relaxed and worry free and that you enjoy the gorgeous state of Alaska!

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