I have been a frequent flyer since I was one year old and I have heard the gate employee time and time again say "Due to this flight being over booked we are offering free vouchers for those who are willing take this flight at a later date" and yet I have never actually seen anyone take said offer. In the case of a overbooked flight in which not a single person cares to take a later flight what would the airline do? Assume every person is present at the gate at boarding time and no one is willing to not take that flight. How would this be handled according to company policy? I want to clarify that when I say overbooked I mean the number of tickets sold exceeds the number of seats available on the aircraft.

  • 3
    Company policy depends, unsurprisingly, on what company you're talking about. Any legal requirements will depend on jurisdiction. Jan 3, 2016 at 16:56
  • Have had the "overbooking" experience on domestic flights on a number of occasions, occasionally on international routes......volunteered once and was "well compensated".......of course, I was not in a rush by any means on that one.......would seem the airline that is overbooked keeps "sweetening" the offer until they get some volunteers......in any case, that is my experience........
    – user38664
    Jan 3, 2016 at 17:07
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    Under EU rules (EU 261), they have to provide cash compensation based on the flight distance + food + accommodation + phone calls. In other jurisdictions the provisions may be less generous
    – Gagravarr
    Jan 3, 2016 at 17:35
  • 1
    Not a duplicate, but travel.stackexchange.com/questions/16427/… is also very relevant to this question
    – Doc
    Jan 3, 2016 at 17:52
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    I've seen plenty of people take the airline up on their "generous offer" (if you call a free night in a hotel and a free flight on the airline that screwed you over "generous" :-). And I've seen plenty of people bumped. I always try to book early and show up early so I'm less likely to get left at the gate, pointlessly cussing out the ticket agent... Jan 4, 2016 at 3:50

5 Answers 5


Chris gave the US side of the answer. You will find the European side on the EU website which regulates the following flights

  • departing from any airport situated in the EU, or
  • arriving in the EU with an EU carrier or one from Iceland, Norway or Switzerland.

So it applies not matter the carrier's homebase.

This is for flight overbooking, cancellations, delays... The EU protects consumers well.


  • 8
    you might want to quote or summarize the appropriate parts of the webpage like the others did.
    – dyesdyes
    Jan 4, 2016 at 6:41

I have often experienced that, and what typically happens is that they slowly increase their offer until someone bites. And someone will always bite if the offer is high enough. The best offer I ever saw was 800 $, taxi, hotel, dinner, and a first class flight next morning for an overbooked late Friday hop from Atlanta to Orlando.

(On a side note, those offers always only happen when I cannot afford to arrive a day later...)


If not enough volunteers are found, passengers will be involuntarily removed from the flight. In the US, the Department of Transportation requires that volunteers are sought first.

From the DoT website:

Overbooking is not illegal, and most airlines overbook their scheduled flights to a certain extent in order to compensate for "no-shows." Passengers are sometimes left behind or "bumped" as a result. When an oversale occurs, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to ask people who aren't in a hurry to give up their seats voluntarily, in exchange for compensation. Those passengers bumped against their will are, with a few exceptions, entitled to compensation.


DOT requires each airline to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn't. Those travelers who don't get to fly are frequently entitled to denied boarding compensation in the form of a check or cash.

  • 10
    @K.Schmidt - No it is not the "luck of the draw", the airlines have specific procedures for selecting the passenger to be bumped, based on fare price paid and date of purchase. And contrary to your expierences, I have seen plenty of people volunteer to be bumped (including myself).
    – user13044
    Jan 3, 2016 at 1:56
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    I can't fathom why overbooking is not illegal. Thankfully I've never been bumped off a flight, but if I were I would be very angry.
    – fkraiem
    Jan 3, 2016 at 2:13
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    @fkraiem - overbooking is allowed but regulated, because there are lots of travelers who miss flights, business travelers who catch an earlier flight, etc. Airlines use historical data to determine overbooking potential on flights and much the time it works. And like everything else there are travelers who game the system, had a business acquaintence who flew out of NYC and scheduled his appointments for afternoon, but booked Monday am flights. He took his family on a number of interntaional trips using the overbooked vouchers he accumulated.
    – user13044
    Jan 3, 2016 at 2:41
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    @fkraiem: if overbooking were to be made illegal, all airline tickets would be significantly more expensive (go check what airlines charge for flexible tickets). Would you be happy with that? Jan 3, 2016 at 12:51
  • 5
    @Martin Not sure about that, low-cost airlines apparently don't overbook.
    – fkraiem
    Jan 3, 2016 at 12:56

Quoting the American Airlines website,

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.

(emphasis mine)

source: https://www.aa.com/i18n/customerService/customerCommitment/customerServicePlan.jsp


I have been involuntarily bumped once for overbooking, and have taken the offer several times. My parents, and this was not their usual style, once left a plane they had already boarded when the agent came on with US Cash (not even a check) looking for two volunteers.

The time I was bumped involuntarily I was re-routed, paid several hundred dollars in vouchers, and got an upgrade to Economy Plus.

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