An airline, often due to the practise of
overbooking, finds it has too many passengers for the aircraft
seats it has available. The practise of overbooking is quite
standard and legal but it means that the airline can not accommodate
all the passengers. Denied boarding is the technical term for
what might more commonly be described as flight bumping or
being bumped off a flight.
Few detailed statistics are available on this practise as it
is a commercially sensitive area for airlines. Airlines are
not happy disclosing these details such as how frequently denied
boarding occurs and what precisely they offer you in compensation
in the event of bumping you off a flight.
Why does flight bumping or denied boarding come about?
An airline knows from its practise that a certain percentage
of passengers who book a seat on a particular flight will not
show. This is perhaps higher where a high number of business
travellers are due to fly on the particular flight.
A businessperson may be travelling on a fully flexible ticket-they
reserve a seat on a particular flight but their plans change
or their important business meeting overruns and they don’t
turn up to take the flight. This is a "no-show".
If airlines only took reservations for the seats they had available
for a flight they would end up losing money by consistently
flying with less full aeroplanes. This carriage of empty seats,
airlines argue, would push up the overall cost of travel.
For the same reason it is possible to arrive at an airport
and be placed on standby on the basis that some of these passengers
with reservations will not turn up.
Therefore overbooking could be seen not necessarily as a bad
or illegal practise but simply a commercially expedient practise.
Airlines would say that this overall allows them to keep prices
lower than they otherwise would be.
However now and again, there may be flights where more passengers
turn up to take the flight than is statistically predicted.
In this situation some passengers are going to be disappointed.
Airlines have procedures to deal with the situation .Whether
they are effective or necessarily just and equitable is up
to the flightmole user to decide for him/herself
Often airlines will ask for volunteers in the first instance.
They will provide an inducement to potential volunteers passengers
to give up their seat in exchange for a benefit. This might
be something which is not in cash but could be potentially
be valuable to the passengers such as an upgrade or vouchers for future travel with the airline.
Therefore the general system is that an airline will attempt
to induce a passenger to volunteer to give up their seat in
exchange for a benefit.
The situation can become more interesting where either the
airline does not have a system of providing a voluntary offer
or where there are no takers for what the airline offers. In
these cases the airline will be forced to deny boarding to
Where an airline is forced to deny boarding to passengers it
will generally attempt to do this to those passengers it regarding
as the least valuable to the airline.
For example an airline would not wish to upset a frequent flyer
with that airline or perhaps a passenger who is more able to
transfer their flight and custom to a competitor airline. Here
an airline is required to make very rapid assessments of what
is in the airline's best commercial interests. These commercial
interests are in conflict with the passengers and you can begin
to understand why an airline doesn't wish to disclose too much
detail in this area-both to their airline customers and to
their competitor airlines.
The rights you have as an airline passenger can vary according
The European Union’s EU Regulation 261/2004 has given
specific rights to passengers where this applies. We will separate
those situations where this EU Regulation applies to those
situations that might apply elsewhere in the world, such as
the United States.
If your flight involved travel to an EU country Regulation
261/2004 may apply to you. Therefore read more about what EU
261/2004 says regarding denied boarding and the rights it gives
to you and the duties it imposes upon EU air carriers.
The United States also has national laws dealing with the issue
of Compulsory denied Boarding and if the flight is governed by
these laws these should also be considered.
As with delay and cancellation,
these national consumer laws overlay the law of the contract
and the airline. Individual airlines within their contract with
the passenger may seek to introduce "voluntary" elements
of compensation in the event of a compulsory denied boarding.
Therefore the air passenger will need to understand several
elements to obtain a complete understand for his/her consumer
rights for any particular occasion.
Flightmole suggests that the airline consumer first examine
the national/international dimension to a flight before then
looking to see how a particular airline might seek to enhance
the compensation/redress available to the passenger.