The other week my flight was overbooked and so the airline looked for volunteers to take another flight the following morning. I can't stop thinking about this since the number of seats available and sold should've been known to the airline for quite some time.

Someone claimed that airlines expect a number of passengers to rebook or not show up and thus with purpose overbook sometimes. Can this really be true? Or is it a data consistency thing where availability for ticket booking is prioritized? Or was it perhaps due to an unplanned change of aircraft model? I'm certain there might be other answers and that reasons may vary from occasion to occasion and different airlines, but please enlighten me here!


closed as off-topic by Him, Federico, Dan Hulme, Simon, Ralph J Aug 2 '15 at 22:14

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about aviation, within the scope defined in the help center." – Federico, Dan Hulme, Simon, Ralph J
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Someone claimed that airlines expect a number of passengers to rebook or not show up and thus with purpose overbook sometimes. Can this really be true? - yes. That's exactly why they do it. $\endgroup$ – Simon Aug 2 '15 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ If this is closed as off-topic, it should probably be migrated to Travel. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Aug 2 '15 at 21:21
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    $\begingroup$ Purposely overbook sometimes? That last word is the only part that's wrong. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Tuggy Aug 2 '15 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ with all due respect, this was a question regarding airline operations and I can't disagree more with your moderation here. Because this airline operation topic concerns passengers you feel this should be moved to travel? Then make that clear in the tag description. I was interested in the operational cause. I won't accept any answer with the question being flagged OT $\endgroup$ – user Aug 7 '15 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ I agree. The tag was Airline Operations, and the question was clearly about how airlines operate. How is this off-topic? Maybe it would help us users understand if there was a better explanation given. Or up/down vote buttons for moderator actions? $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Jan 3 at 1:19

Airlines have lots of historical data for any given flight segment that they can use to give statistical probabilities of people missing flights due to various factors such as misconnection or just not showing up. An airline is a profit driven corporation and to maximize revenue they want full airplanes.

If they know for a flight that 5% +/- 2% of passengers fail to board they can pretty safely sell around 103% of the seats to maximize passengers and minimize risk of overboarding. Statistics are averages, however, and if you sell 103% of your capacity it is entirely possible for a given instance of that flight to be overbooked.

In most cases of overbooking, volunteers can be found that will give up seats if the plane becomes full. US airlines generally top out at around $800 compensation for volunteers, so if you are willing to do so it can be advantageous to wait for them to get desperate for volunteers. If no volunteers can be found it is possible to be involuntarily bumped off the flight and you should consult with the specific airline for any rights you may have in that case.


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