What is Flight Overbooking & How To Protect Yourself From It

These few days, the hot topic of flight overbooking is everywhere: It’s on social media, the papers, and we bet it’s being brought up at all your recent water cooler gossip sessions too. What is overbooking? Doesn’t my plane ticket guarantee me a seat?

As it turns out, not really. But before you panic for your upcoming flight, here is everything you need to know about overbooking and how to protect yourself from it.

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Overbooking is common and practised by almost all the airlines.

The Airlines Call It “Oversold”

When a flight is oversold, it means that it is overbooked and that the airline has sold more seats than is available on the plane. This is to maximize profit, and takes into account the no show rate to sell as many tickets as the airline can. For instance, if based on the airline’s data, 10 percent of passengers are expected to miss their flight, then they will sell more tickets to make up for this, and for a better chance at taking off with a full plane.

What happens then? Well, several passengers will be denied boarding—voluntarily or involuntarily.

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Although it rarely reaches that stage, the airlines do reserve the right to remove any passenger from the aircraft.

Can they force you to leave an overbooked flight?

Technically, yes, they can. However, reputable airlines typically handle such situations very tactfully, usually never resulting in violence. In Singapore, arrangements for an overbooked flight are usually settled during check-in. Passengers are very rarely (if ever) asked to disembark from the plane.

Here’s how it usually goes:

  1. If the flight is full, you will be notified during check-in, and asked if you mind volunteering to give up your seat.
  2. If you agree, you will be offered compensation, usually in the form of flight vouchers, gift cards, and/or cash.
  3. Once there are enough volunteers, the flight will take off at max capacity.
  4. If there are not enough volunteers, the airline will choose passengers to move to the next flight.
  5. Those involuntarily bumped from the flight will be offered compensation as well.
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There is no sure-fire way to avoid getting bumped off the flight, but there are some measures you can take to lower your chances.

How To Avoid Getting Bumped

If for whatever reason you cannot afford to delay your plans, here are some tips to improve your chances of keeping your seat.

#1 Check-In Early

It’s best to confirm your seat as early as you possibly can. Make sure to arrive two to three hours before your departure—the plane is probably not yet full, and you have a good chance of being allotted a seat. If the airline allows online check-in, even better still. Some allow online check-in up to 48 hours before flight time.

#2 Opt for Odd Hour Flights

With popular flights, it’s a double whammy: They are more likely to be overbooked, and its passengers are more likely to show up. This means the chance of getting bumped increases! If your travel window is flexible, try to travel during off-peak seasons and choose odd hour timings.

#3 Fly Business or First Class

No airline has explicitly revealed how they choose which passengers to bump, but many sources suggest that those holding lower-priced tickets are usually the first to go.

#4 Be A Frequent Flyer

If you fly often and aren’t already under any reward scheme, maybe it’s time to check with your preferred airline. Being a VIP usually comes with exclusive privileges—who knows, keeping your seat may be one of them!


Don’t Mind Getting Bumped?

If you’re simply going on a vacay and have time to spare, you may not mind taking the next flight. Sure, you may arrive slightly later, but in exchange you may have been compensated enough to cover a significant part of your travel expenses. If that is the case for you, let the airline know as soon as you can and hear what they have to offer.


Other Tips

  • When booking your tickets, be sure to read the Conditions of Carriage so you are aware of your rights. You don’t want any surprises!
  • If (knock on wood) you really do get asked to leave the flight, it is wise to comply before things get ugly. You can always speak to the airline once you’re off the plane.

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