Some companies allow you to check-in online prior to the flight, assigning you the seats.

Is it still somehow possible to be involuntarily bounced, despite having already checked in and already having an assigned seat?

This assuming you don't arrive late.

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    @pnuts sure, but this is before having been able to check-in, so at least is understandable. Dec 16, 2016 at 23:46
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    @pnuts exactly, that's how I understand it. I'm asking if this is correct or not. Apparently you say it is ;) Dec 16, 2016 at 23:53

4 Answers 4


I deleted my comments because this fits into an answer much better because OP is not satisfied with the answers given.

Here it is, plain and simple: involuntarily denied boarding is an extraordinary event because it causes monetary and "face" loss to the airline. Whether you will be IDB'd has nothing to do with whether you are checked in and have a seat. Everyone showing up at the airport will be allowed to the gate. Some might not have an assigned seat. But just because you have an assigned seat it doesn't mean you will fly and said person won't. The airline will first ask for volunteers anyways. There are almost always volunteers. I did it once, would do it again. Pocketing $400 for doing nothing when there's noone expecting me home anyways? Gladly!

If there are still not enough seats going 'round, someone or multiple someones gets the IDB. Bad. There are many deciding factors on who. Airline status is a definite protection. They won't boot someone who already spent a gazillion dollars with them and likely to continue to do so. Same with premium classes. They will pick someone who does not connect and flies on a very cheap ticket. Also, they will try to boot someone without checked in luggage because removing a bag from the hold takes precious time. Note how all this has nothing to do with holding a boarding card with a seat printed on it.

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    Actually this depends on the airline, and at least in the US the airlines must have a procedure for handing IDB's filed with the FAA. For many airlines, those without seat assignements DOES play a large part, as does check-in time.
    – Doc
    Dec 17, 2016 at 0:53
  • @Doc - decisions on who gets involuntarily bumped is based on (in descending order of importance) fare class, elite status (if any), date of ticket purchase, check in time (which in turn relates to no seat assigned). The last, check in time, is used primarily as a tie breaker not as a primary part of the decision making process.
    – user13044
    Dec 17, 2016 at 2:11
  • @Tom Perhaps with one airline, but certainly NOT with all. At least one major US airline uses check-in time as one of the major criteria
    – Doc
    Dec 17, 2016 at 2:17
  • @Tom aa.com/i18n/customer-service/support/conditions-of-carriage.jsp states "In such events, American will usually deny boarding based upon check-in time..."
    – Doc
    Dec 17, 2016 at 2:19
  • @Doc - It also says may consider other factors, fare costs, status, etc, so they basically cover their legal backsides, without making people think they treat big money spenders better. But the reality at the gate, high price tickets fly, cheap tickets wait.
    – user13044
    Dec 17, 2016 at 3:08

Involuntary bumps only happen after everyone has checked in, so yes to your question.

Airlines take more reservations than they have seats because past flight history shows a certain percentage will be no shows for a variety of reasons. But until everyone checks in they do not know how many, if any, need to be bumped, voluntarily or involuntarily.

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    I don't understand. If my seat is already assigned, this means they assign the same seat twice? I've always assumed they sold more "generic tickets" that eventually wouldn't be converted to seats… Dec 16, 2016 at 23:45
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    @chx ok, good point, but are these extremely rare circumstances, or are they "common" as normal overbooking? Dec 16, 2016 at 23:58
  • @EdwardianServants - No once all seats are assigned late check ins get told they will get their seat assigned at the gate. But it does not mean they are more likely to be involuntarily bumped.
    – user13044
    Dec 17, 2016 at 2:05

There's 2 very different terms here many people get wrong - Overbooked, and oversold.

Overbooked means that the airline has sold more seats on a flight than the plane has. This could happen at any time before the flight occurs - even weeks before. The airline is presuming that there will be a combination of people that change their flight beforehand, don't show for the flight, miss-connect, etc - and they are hoping that the number that actually want to fly on the day is lower than the number of seats on the plane. Alternatively the airline might even swap in a larger plane to handle the extra passengers (although this is fairly rare)

No-one will ever get denied boarding just because a flight is overbooked. Some airlines, if a flight is very overbooked (especially if they have had a cancellation or had to swap in a smaller plane for some reason) might proactively offer to move passengers to a different flight, but that's basically always optional.

Oversold is a very different thing. An oversold situation occurs when the plane is sitting at the gate, and more people turn up to board it than there are seats. Obviously the flight had to be overbooked for this to occur, but the "no shows" that the airline was expecting didn't occur, and this is when people need to be denied boarding, or "bumped". By definition, oversold can only really occur within the last hour or so (or more normally, last 15-20 minutes) before the flight actually boards, as that's the only point that the airline knows that there are too many people. They might have an idea beforehand (eg, based on the number of people that have checked in, and the fact that the flights they are arriving on are not delayed), but in the days of online check-in even that isn't a guarantee that people will turn up.

What happens when a flight is oversold depends on the airline, the country (and government regulations), and even the individual gate attendants.

In general, most airlines will ask for "volunteers" to fly on a different flight. Sometimes they will be paid compensation for this, at other times it will be done on the grounds that it's a better flight (maybe a direct flight rather than a connection, so it actually gets in earlier). If enough people "volunteer", then the problem is solved.

If not enough people volunteer, then some people will need to be denied boarding. The process of selecting who gets denied depends on the airline, but as an example the US legislation around denied boarding allows this to be based on :

Boarding priority factors may include, but are not limited to, the following: (1) A passenger's time of check-in; (2) Whether a passenger has a seat assignment before reaching the departure gate for carriers that assign seats; (3) The fare paid by a passenger; (4) A passenger's frequent-flyer status; and (5) A passenger's disability or status as an unaccompanied minor.

At least one of the major US airlines has a policy that is as simple as check-in time. The last person/people to check-in for the flight will be the first to be denied boarding - regardless of who has a seat assignment. Others will do it based on who doesn't have a seat assignment, etc.

In extreme situations it's even possible that you can have a seat assignment, but for a seat that doesn't exist. eg, if the airline decides to swap in a smaller plane (or even just a different layout for the same plane) then certain rows or seats may no longer exist, in which case even having a seat assignment won't mean much!

So yes, it is possible to be denied boarding - even if you have a seat assignment. If you're trying to minimize the chances of being denied boarding, then checking in earlier, and selecting a seat, are certainly two of the things you can do to help yourself!

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    I have even read about someone already sitting in the plane being asked to get out and back to the building, to be told that he is bumped and someone else is going to fly instead. Involuntary. (As far as I remember I read it on this site, I did not search for it.)
    – Willeke
    Dec 17, 2016 at 11:21

Check-in and seat assignments are not completely linked. Most of the time if you managed to get a seat assigned, then you are much less likely to be involuntarily bumped because, well, they did give reserve you a place on the plane.

What happens is that some people check-in and they get a boarding pass which says Seat to be assigned at the gate or something like that. This happened to me several times. At that point, they make you go through the whole process (baggage drop, security, immigration) and make you wait.

At a certain point when boarding is in progress, they call people for seat assignment and they give them seats of people who did not show (either after checking in or for not checking in). They can also give you a seat in a different class but that is increasingly rare from what I have seen.

The sometimes decide to ask for a voluntary bump once people have already boarded. In that case, they offer some kind of compensation such as discount or frequent flyer points. In this case, you may decide to relinquish a seat assigned to you.

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    I'm asking specifically about the case when you did both check-in and got a specific seat assigned. Dec 17, 2016 at 0:02
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    @EdwardianServants On over hundreds of flights, I have never been involuntarily bumped with a seat assignment, only the voluntary bump is likely at that point.
    – Itai
    Dec 17, 2016 at 0:04
  • You can get bumped from a seat for weight and balance reasons. Even nastier, you can get weather-bumped from your seat (no compensation!) Both can happen after boarding. (And it makes passengers go What?!?! There's no weather!! The weather that causes this is heat.) Dec 23, 2016 at 3:08

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