How Do Airlines Decide Who Gets Bumped On An Overbooked Flight?

How Do Airlines Decide Who Gets Bumped On An Overbooked Flight

While overbooking helps airlines maximize revenue, it can also lead to a situation where passengers are bumped off a flight due to a lack of seats. This raises the question: “How do airlines decide who gets bumped on an overbooked flight?” 

In this article, we will answer this question and help you get an understanding of the basics that can help passengers be better prepared for the possibility of being bumped.

How Do Airlines Decide Who Gets Bumped On An Overbooked Flight?

Usually, airlines decide to bump those on an overbooked flight who have fewer privileges such as lower-fare tickets and late bookings. People who booked earlier or paid more for their ticket will usually get to stay on board. Another deciding factor is the type of ticket that was purchased. 

Airlines may opt to bump passengers with non-refundable tickets, while those with refundable tickets are more likely to be given preference. 

The airline will also consider the individual passenger’s length of trip and total time spent at their destination when making a decision on who gets bumped. 

Finally, airlines may also give special consideration to passengers with medical conditions or special needs. 

Thus, airlines use various criteria when selecting which passengers get bumped from an overbooked flight. 

When an airline flight has more passengers than available seats, it can be a tricky situation for the crew to manage. 

Airlines must first offer incentives, such as money or vouchers, to passengers to voluntarily give up their seats. 

This can be especially beneficial if passengers have flexibility in scheduling and do not mind taking a later flight. 

Airlines involuntarily bump people on an overbooked flight only if not enough people are willing to volunteer their seats.

In this case, the airlines use strict criteria when deciding who gets bumped from an overbooked flight as mentioned above.

Who Gets Bumped On Overbooked Flight?

Who Gets Bumped On Overbooked Flight?

Photo by Maëva Vigier on Unsplash

Generally, the airline will follow a set of priorities when determining who will be bumped from an overbooked flight. These criteria typically include factors such as type of ticket, check-in time, frequent flyer status, travel purpose, and connecting flights that may have to be rescheduled. 

For example, if two passengers have arrived at the airport before the deadline for checking in and both have paid full-fare tickets, then their frequent flyer status cannot be used as a criterion for denying one of them a seat. 

When airlines overbook flights, it can be quite stressful for passengers who may be denied boarding in the end. 

The most important thing for travelers to do is familiarize themselves with their airline’s policies regarding overbooked flights. Hence be prepared in case they find themselves in a situation where they may need to give up their seats. 

How To Not Get Bumped From A Flight?

The most important thing to do to avoid getting bumped from a flight is to arrive and check in early. Airlines will usually begin the process of overbooking flights once all passengers have checked in. By checking in early, you’ll be less likely to be bumped if the flight is overbooked. 

It’s also a good idea to select your seat assignment when booking your ticket (if possible). 

Selecting a seat ahead of time will let the airline know that you are committed and give you an added layer of protection against being bumped.

Here are a few other things you could do to not get bumped from a flight:

  • Be flexible with your travel plans whenever possible. If an airline needs to clear a seat, they are more likely to bump someone who has the least flexible travel plans. 
  • Avoid peak travel times if you can. Travelling during off-peak hours will significantly reduce your chances of being bumped from a flight as airlines tend to overbook flights during peak travelling periods due to higher demand. 
  • Be sure to book with a reputable airline that values its customers. Some carriers may be more likely than others to bump passengers in order to accommodate other travellers or important staff members. 

By following all of these steps, you can greatly reduce your chances of getting bumped from a flight. 

Keep in mind that there is no fool-proof system for avoiding being bumped, and sometimes the best we can do is be prepared for whatever may come our way. 

Strategy Effective in avoiding being bumped?
Book a non-stop flight Yes
Check-in online as early as possible Yes
Choose a seat in advance No
Arrive at the gate early Yes
Volunteer to be bumped Yes
Travel during peak travel times No
Fly with a low-cost airline No
Purchase a higher fare class ticket Yes
Have elite status with the airline Yes
Don’t book a flight during busy travel periods Yes

What Are The Rights Of A Passenger Regarding Compensation For Being Bumped Off A Flight?

What Are The Rights Of A Passenger Regarding Compensation For Being Bumped Off A Flight?

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

In general, if a passenger has been bumped due to overbooking or other operational reasons, they may be eligible for certain forms of compensation. This could include reimbursement for the ticket price and any additional expenses such as meals, accommodation, and transportation costs. 

In some cases, passengers may even receive compensation for the distress caused by the inconvenience. 

The exact rights of a passenger regarding compensation will depend on various factors including the reason for being bumped and local regulations

It is therefore important for passengers to check the airline’s policy and local regulations to understand what compensation they may be entitled to in the event of being bumped off a flight. 

Additionally, if you feel that the airline has mishandled your situation, you can contact the relevant authorities for assistance. 

It is important to remember that in some cases, passengers may not be eligible for compensation or may only receive partial compensation due to certain factors such as when a bumping is caused by unexpected circumstances beyond the airline’s control. 

In these cases, it’s important for passengers to consider all their options before making any decisions. 

Do The Airlines Need To Compensate You For Being Bumped From A Flight?

The answer is yes, in most cases. In the United States, specifically, if you are denied boarding due to a flight being overbooked and your arrival at your destination is delayed by more than one hour but less than two hours. 

You may be entitled to receive 200% of the one-way fare to your final destination, up to a maximum of $650 USD. 

Additionally, other forms of compensation such as meals or hotel accommodations may also be part of the agreement depending on the circumstances. 

It is important to research the specific laws and regulations of your particular country or region in order to determine what kind of compensation, if any, you may be entitled to. 

Here’s a table showing the typical compensation for delayed flights based on the length of the delay:

Delay Length Compensation (US)
Less than 1 hour No compensation
1-2 hours 200% of the one-way fare, up to $675
2-4 hours (domestic) or 4-8 hours (international) 400% of the one-way fare, up to $1,350
More than 4 hours (domestic) or 8 hours (international) Refund of the ticket price or alternate transportation, plus compensation for the inconvenience (amount varies)

How Is Bumping Flights Compensation Calculated?

The amount of compensation will depend on the price of the ticket for the flight, the length of time it takes for them to reach their destination after being involuntarily bumped, and whether the flight was domestic or international and leaving from the United States. 

For flights with short delays, passengers typically receive double their one-way ticket price in compensation. 

However, airlines may limit this amount up to $650 if it exceeds double the one-way ticket fare. 

For longer delays, passengers are usually eligible for four times their one-way ticket price, and this amount may not be limited by the airline. 

In addition to monetary compensation, passengers who are involuntarily bumped from their flights may also be offered other forms of compensation such as an alternate flight or a voucher for future travel. 

Airlines will typically determine which form of compensation is most appropriate for each individual situation. 

Why Are You Always Getting Bumped From A Flight?

One of the most obvious reasons you are always getting bumped from a flight is overbooking. Another reason you may always be getting bumped from a flight is late arrival and late check-in. You could also be getting bumped for grabbing the cheapest flight deals.

Let’s explore some of these reasons and more below to help you understand why you may always be getting bumped from a flight:


One of the most common reasons why passengers get bumped is because of overbooking. Airlines often overbook flights, assuming that some passengers won’t show up. 

However, if everyone does show up, there may not be enough seats on the plane. In this case, the airline will need to bump some passengers to a later flight.

Delayed or Canceled Flights

If a flight is delayed or canceled, the airline may need to bump passengers to a later flight to accommodate those who were originally scheduled to fly on the later flight. This is done to minimize the disruption caused by the delay or cancellation.

Weight and Balance Issues

Another reason why passengers may get bumped is because of weight and balance issues. If the airline needs to adjust the weight and balance of the aircraft, they may need to move passengers around or remove some from the flight altogether. 

This is done to ensure the safety of the flight.

Upgraded or VIP Passengers

If a flight is oversold and the airline needs to make room for upgraded or VIP passengers, they may need to bump some passengers to a later flight. 

This can be frustrating for those who have already booked and paid for their seats, but it’s a common practice in the airline industry.

Late Arrival

late arrival can cause you to get bumped from an overbooked flight

Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

Finally, if a passenger arrives late at the gate, the airline may give their seat to someone else who is waiting on standby. This is why it’s important to arrive at the airport early and check in on time.

How Is The Department Of Transportation Responsible For Bumping You From A Flight?

The DOT is responsible for implementing rules and regulations that protect air travelers, including those related to denied boarding or bumping from a flight. These rules and regulations ensure that passengers are treated fairly. They do not decide who gets bumped from a flight.

One of the key regulations that the DOT has implemented is the requirement that airlines ask for volunteers to give up their seats on overbooked flights before involuntarily bumping passengers. 

This means that if a flight is overbooked, the airline must first ask for volunteers before bumping any passengers. 

If no volunteers are found, the airline can then involuntarily bump passengers.

If a passenger is involuntarily bumped, the airline must provide the passenger with compensation, such as a refund or alternative transportation. 

The DOT has also set guidelines for the amount of compensation that airlines must provide to passengers who are involuntarily bumped. 

This compensation can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, depending on the circumstances.

In addition to requiring airlines to ask for volunteers before involuntarily bumping passengers, the DOT also requires airlines to disclose their overbooking policies and provide passengers with a written statement of their rights in the event of denied boarding. 

This information must be readily available to passengers and must be provided in a clear and concise manner.

If you believe that an airline has violated DOT regulations related to denied boarding or bumping, you can file a complaint with the DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division. 

The division is responsible for investigating complaints related to airline practices and can take action against airlines that are found to be in violation of DOT regulations.


Can You Be Involuntarily Bumped From Flight?

Yes, you can be involuntarily bumped from a flight. This usually happens if an airline has overbooked its flights and there are not enough volunteers willing to give up their seats in exchange for compensation. When passengers are involuntarily bumped from a flight, they are entitled to assistance and compensation.

This is in regard to any inconvenience caused. 

The amount of compensation depends on the length of delay and destination.

However, this can range anywhere from cash or vouchers for future travel to additional services including meal vouchers, hotel accommodations, and transportation costs. 

It’s important to always check your airline’s policies regarding overbooking and involuntary bumping before you travel. 

To increase your chances of avoiding being bumped, arrive early at the airport and try to be flexible with your travel plans if possible. 

How Do Airlines Decide Who Gets Bumped?

Some of the factors that airlines consider when deciding who gets bumped include check-in time, fare paid by the passenger, and frequent flyer status. It is important to note that these criteria must not be used in a way that prejudices or disadvantages any passenger unjustly or unreasonably. 


In conclusion, overbooking and bumping are realities of air travel that passengers may encounter.

While the specific criteria and algorithms used by airlines to determine who gets bumped may differ, passengers can take proactive steps such as checking in early, selecting seats ahead of time, and being flexible with travel plans to minimize their chances of being bumped. 

Swati Jaiswal

Swati Jaiswal is a dedicated traveler and an even dedicated individual who specializes in travel, digital marketing, & health and fitness niches. Passport stamps and coffee stains are her badges of honor.

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