Airline Overbooking and How You Can Avoid It

Posted: 22nd Aug 2017

Airline overbooking has been a hot topic of media conversation recently. We wanted to shed some light on this misunderstood practice and share useful advice on how best to avoid being ‘bumped’ from a flight as a busy business traveller.

Airline overbooking is a practice used by all commercial airline carriers, designed to fill empty seats that ‘no-show’ passengers leave behind. Historical flight data tells airlines that on any given flight, a percentage of passengers won’t show up to fill their seat, for varying reasons. To avoid flying with empty seats, airlines sell more seats than are available. On average, the number of people not turning up to a flight is around 5%

In short, yes. However there has been much discussion within the travel industry about the need for carriers to make their policy for overbooking more transparent – most airline policies on overbooking are buried deep in the terms and conditions.

If a flight has been over-sold and all passengers turn up, it becomes what’s known as ‘blown’. This means that despite having confirmed your reservation, you could still be denied a seat on the plane. When handled properly (and in most cases), only passengers who are happy to postpone their trip (in return for compensation), will stay grounded. If you are requested to surrender your seat you can expect immediate compensation, re-routing (this can be on a rival airline), hotel accommodation and additional expenses paid for.

Not as such, however, busy times of business travel are predictable. This means that airlines can reduce their ‘overbooking’ allowance when they know a period of reliable high business activity is likely. It’s also common for business travellers to buy tickets with a greater degree of flexibility, which usually means a more expensive ticket, which in turn means you’re more likely to fly on the flight you’ve booked on to! In addition, if you are part of an airline loyalty scheme (as most business travellers are), this is taken in to consideration and will make you less likely to lose your seat. However, we all know that often the most straightforward itinerary can be open to change at the last minute, this is when working with a Travel Management Company is useful. For example, with our 360 Roam product, you are kept up to date with any itinerary changes, notifications of gate numbers, flight delays and cancellations via your smart device, always keeping you one step ahead.

There are hidden benefits to this system. Because overbooking is based on historical data, airlines most often get it right, meaning passengers who need to travel urgently can buy tickets for a particular flight even if it’s theoretically sold out. This is particularly beneficial to business travellers who are the most likely candidates for last-minute travel.

If you have obligations in your destination city and absolutely cannot afford to be bumped from a flight, arrive as early as possible at the airport, especially if you’re taking a popular route. Better yet, check in online as soon as you are able. One of the things we hear most from our business travellers is that they often forget to check in online before their flight. Our 360 Embark technology automatically completes the online check-in process for you, sending the boarding pass to any smart device or desktop. In addition, for travel arranged by travel bookers or PA’s we offer our 360 Organiser service. This includes a suite of standardised travel documents, easy-to-read itineraries, and dynamic links to airline check-in pages, automatically uploading information in to your office calendar so you never miss a check-in deadline.

Try to think of your flight booking as having purchased a ‘journey’, rather than a guaranteed seat on a guaranteed plane. To give yourself the best chance of getting your preferred plane, seat, and time you need to be ahead of the crowds, this can mean working with a reliable Travel Management Company to avoid unexpected disruption. For any further advice on airline overbooking please don’t hesitate to contact us at