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Following on from this question about Overbooking, we know that airlines will often sell more tickets than there are seats on a plane, and from time to time they guess wrong and too many people actually turn up to fly. That can lead to bumping, but isn't the only reason why it might happen.

If you are set to fly on a flight which has more people turn up than there are seats (due to mis-judged overbooking, delays to other flights, equipment changes etc), some people sadly won't be getting the plane. What steps can you take to try to avoid being one of those people? Does class of travel or ticket price matter? Frequent Flier status? First to check in? Last? Connections? One way vs return?

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In my experience, whenever such a situation arose the company asked who was willing to be moved to a different (normally later) flight, or to a flight which had a detour or stop-over, and offered compensation for accepting this change. I've never seen such offers being dropped, because they normally offered an amount which roughly corresponded to what you had paid, so you travelled for free... –  Paola Apr 11 '13 at 20:35
    
I've opened a related question on how to take advantage of those offers, this is more on how to try and avoid being the one bumped off if enough people aren't interested in taking them! –  Gagravarr Apr 11 '13 at 20:38
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2 Answers 2

It will always be first come-first serve. They will think some people will not show up, the airlines will only know when too many people show up and whoever got the boarding pass will be onboard and who did not get the boarding pass will have some apologies and perhaps a hotel room depends on the airlines' policies and situation.

Therefore, only one thing that can saves you from this, show up early or get the boarding pass earlier (most airlines have the option to issue boarding passes online). That's the best effective way to make sure you will be onboard.

Most airlines allow you to get the boarding pass 24 hours before the flight (either by taking a trip to the airport counter or online), but once you get the boarding pass it is a one way thing, the ticket is not refundable anymore and you can not cancel that (unless of course it is the airlines mistake, eg. if they cancel the flight).

One more thing, you might be lucky and get upgraded if your class was overbooked and they didn't find you a seat. So if you like gambling and you do not have a problem being delayed a day or two, you can take that shot and show up little late.

UPDATE:

As Flimzy commented, if the airlines in case of overbooking issued boarding passes more than the airplane's capacity (which happens by the way) then some people will have to deplane. How will they choose who will be rejected I do not know a standard for that. Could be by volunteering as mentioned in the comment or by some other criteria depending on the airlines. In the airlines where I work they will reject the passengers who are employees of the airlines first, I know that because I was in this situation before. I guess other airlines have similar criteria.

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Not true. I have been on a flight where they asked for volunteers, and when nobody volunteered, they asked two random* passengers to give up their seats. Clearly it was not a first-come-first-served scenario--the passengers were already seated and on the plane, and had to give up their seats for passengers who had not yet boarded. I don't recall not which airline I was on. Probably either Continental/United or American. [*I don't know for sure they were random; they may have been some criteria to select them, but it was not FCFS.] –  Flimzy Apr 12 '13 at 1:32
    
@Flimzy that could happen too, rarely! they must have issued duplicate boarding passes in your case which made it (overbooking + duplicate boarding passes). That could happen at any flight but when it happens with overbooking they will have to deplane the excess passengers. –  MeNoTalk Apr 12 '13 at 1:35
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@HaLaBi last year I did encounter the scenario where after checking in relatively late to an Egypt Air flight I was bumped from the overbooked economy section to first class. I've also considered turning up later to increase my chance of that happening, it's obviously a massive gamble though. And unfortunately in this case with Egypt Air first class is relative to economy on many other airlines... –  Marcus Gorillius Apr 12 '13 at 5:10
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This is quite misleading. Airlines will almost never bounce those holding frequent flyer cards with them, for example - since these are passengers by definition you don't want to annoy - and this is true irrespective of when they check in. Saying "It will always be first come-first serve" isn't really true. –  Andrew Ferrier Apr 17 '13 at 15:34
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Frequent flyer status does have a lot to do with it. Most elite status levels will guarantee your seat, and bump someone if you checked in late. This was likely the situation @Flimzy is talking about. Although I almost always take the volunteer bump. Quickest way to make €600 for sleeping in an airport hotel. –  Stephen P. May 15 '13 at 9:39
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One cannot avoid being bump but one can make it much less likely. I have been on dozens of flights where someone else gets bumped, some when I got bumped and some where I volunteered. The odd part is that if you are likely to volunteer, then you are most likely to get bumped.

Usually the airline will first ask for volunteers. If enough appear, then no one else gets bumped. If this does not happen, they are looking to do a bump which is least inconvenient for them:

  • Having a connecting flight makes you less likely to be bumped. Otherwise, they have to rebook you on more than one flight.
  • Being part of a large group makes you less likely to be bumped too.
  • For flights that are regularly book and during high-season, they will may want to book you on a different route or close by airport. In this case they will prefer people without checked luggage.
  • Being a loyal customer. Airlines value loyalty, so they tend to avoid inconveniencing people who fly frequently with them.
  • The class of booking may have an impact but I have not noted it. I imagine that they are more likely to bump people in economy class.
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as far as know, almost every major airline never overbooks Business/First, since they don't want to bump people in those classes. –  Andrew Ferrier Apr 17 '13 at 15:35
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