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Why do airlines overbook flights?

113,000 passengers were bumped from U.S. flights the first three months of this year.

ATLANTA — It is not unusual for travelers to arrive for a flight with ticket in hand, only to find they’re booked on a plane with more travelers than seats.

Airlines often overbook flights which can lead them to bump passengers to later flights.


During the first three months of this year, a total of 113,785 passengers were bumped from flights run by airlines based here in the United States. That’s up from 85,054 from the previous year.

Sometimes, travelers buy tickets and never show up for their flight.

“Airlines intentionally oversell flights with the expectation that not all passengers will show up,” says Tracy Stewart, Content Editor at Airfarewatchdog.com. “These days, airlines can predict the number of no-shows with eerie accuracy.”

The airlines keep a close watch on which flights have the most “no-shows.” They use computer software to forecast how many passengers are likely to skip a particular flight.

If the computer forecasts, for example, a dozen “no shows,” the airline will overbook accordingly to make sure every seat is full.

But sometimes they’re wrong.

“When everyone does show up as planned, the airlines has to scramble at the last minute to accommodate them,” Stewart says.

If everyone with a ticket shows up for an overbooked flight, gate agents start offering travel vouchers, even cash in an attempt to convince travelers to take another flight.

If they can’t get enough passengers to vacate voluntarily, they’ll start bumping.

“It’s no surprise that passengers with airline status and those who paid the most for their ticket are the least likely to be selected for bumping,” Stewart says. “Travelers with disabilities and unaccompanied minors are also spared.”

Delta proudly informed us that out of their 32-million passengers the first quarter of the year, only one who wished to stay on their flight got the big bump.


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