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I couldn't find an answer to this anywhere. Everything I find about overbookings is about people standing in line at the gate, after security scrutiny, and being bumped. I have read everything about it.

I will be flying soon next week within EU with a low cost airline that is not famous for being friendly to customers. I already know that my flight is full as no one can book additional tickets. Check in is not open yet, it will open 48 hours before flight. I could get a seat and a boarding card immediately for a fee if I wanted. I have no clue whether the flight is just full or overbooked.

Suppose, for some reason, that 1) the flight is already over-booked and 2) for reasons related to work and sleeping times everyone checks in and gets a free seat before me and my group

Here comes the question: according to EU rules about denied boarding and compensation, is there any difference between 1) being denied issuance of a boarding card with a seat number at online check-in phase, and 2) being denied boarding when you hold already a valid boarding card?

I think it is unlikely that the company could just say "oh, dear passenger, you were the last checking in, we have no more seats for you, forget about your trip and fly again with us". Really unlikely. I expect some form of compensation/arrangement.

Naive answer: one could always ping the arline website around check in time and be (among the) the first. It's unlikely that all passengers will be doing the same. But I am just asking a question to better know how it works.

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    The question is a bit confusing. Where did you read all this? Being informed at check-in rather than at the gate is actually more typical I think. Also, it's a detail but low-cost airlines typically open online check-in long before 24/48 hours and do not overbook as much as legacy carrier. – Relaxed Sep 11 at 9:08
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    Not being issued a boarding pass at check-in time also doesn't necessarily mean you are denied boarding. If the check-in itself fails, that could be an indication, but if the system checks you in, but just doesn't issue a boarding pass, it could have several reasons (like additional document checks etc). – dunni Sep 11 at 9:19
  • @Relaxed let me rephrase. Suppose the airline sells 310 tickets on a flight with 300 seats months ago. You must check in 24/48 hours earlier. For some reason, you end up go online during the last hours the online check is open, e.g. during your trip to airport from mobile, but then already 300 people have checked in and have a boarding pass. You can't be issued a boarding pass because there is no seat left, the flight is overbooked. – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Sep 11 at 9:56
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    This doesn't answer the question, but if the airline is Ryanair, they do not overbook. Passengers may occasionally be bumped but this is quite rare. – MJeffryes Sep 11 at 9:57
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    For the record, it will never be ‘forget about your trip’. As you have a contract with the airline to get you from your departure point to your (last) arrival point, they have a contractual obligation to get you there no matter how. Unless you’re only spending a day or two at your destination, then it might not make sense for you but they would still have to get you there if you so wish. – Jan Sep 11 at 12:23
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I can't tell you about the specifics of your airline, but let me tell you in general how this works.

It is extremely unlikely that you will be denied boarding for overbooking when you check in, either online or at the counter. It virtually always happens at the gate. Airlines do not know until the very last minute whether all the people with tickets will actually show up, even if they are checked in. If someone doesn't show you will be let on board.

You can tell at check-in if you are at risk. If you are given a seat at check-in then you will almost always be let on board. If you are not, then you may be bumped. If that happens staff are explicitly told not to say that you are at risk, to reassure you and tell you everything will be alright, and often it will, but you are definitely at risk if you don't have a seat number. Note that you can be given a boarding pass without a seat number - it will say something like "seat assigned at gate" or "see gate agent". Despite the reassuring wording this definitely means you are at risk of bumping. (Obviously none of this applies to airlines where seats are first come first serve at boarding).

For regulations it makes no difference whether you are bumped at the counter or the gate (though it will virtually always be the gate). You have been denied boarding and are due whatever compensation the law and your contract says.

  • "For regulations it makes no difference" > perfect! This is the clarification – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Sep 11 at 13:16
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being denied issuance of a boarding card with a seat number at online check-in phase,

I've never seen or heard of someone being denied a boarding pass at check in.

It it's full, they may offer you compensation to voluntarily take a different flight, but most airlines will still let you check in and give you a boarding pass just without a specific seat. It typically says "Seat assigned at gate" or "see gate agent for seat assignment".

In this case you are expected to show up at the airport and be at the gate at the appointed time.

Airlines want to minimize the cost of overbooking. So they tend to wait until late in the game to estimate how many people will actually show up. Then they are looking for volunteers to give up their seat for compensation. This typically turns into a bit of an auction. They will offer some amount of vouchers and see who goes for it. If they can't find enough volunteers at that price they often increase the offer until the numbers work

Involuntary bumping happens only rarely since it's expensive to the airline so they rather throw a money and specifically vouchers at volunteers. If they do bump, they have rules and a pecking order to select the victims. Keep in mind that a seat assignment and a boarding pass does NOT protect you from being bumped. If their internal rules say "you're it" then "you're it". You can actually be dragged off the plane even after you have already boarded. Case in point: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Express_Flight_3411_incident

  • Regardless of the incident (which is an improbable edge case I am fully aware of), clearly both Q and A show my lack of knowledge about overbooking and probably the false perception (driven by media) that OB happens more frequently than real. A fact is that a friend of mine was politely bumped from Turkish Airlines this August, as the person reported me. Me and my buddies have never been bumped, and the only time I volunteered something was for checking by cabin bag in exchange of priority boarding (I had a question about that) – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Sep 11 at 13:15
  • Above was just a comment – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Sep 11 at 13:15
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    Do you definitely know of cases where a person has a seat assignment and was bumped specifically for overbooking? – DJClayworth Sep 11 at 13:53

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