What Happens if No One Volunteers for an Overbooked Flight?


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Co-founder and Editor at Connecting Flights Guide

Una is an organized globetrotter and foodie who’s been living a digital nomad lifestyle since 2013. She always starts her day early with a good book before diving into work. Apart from traveling and aviation, her other passions include gym, hiking and cycling. Una is also a strong proponent of AI technology. She firmly believes in its potential to simplify life and has often advocated for its wider adoption in our day-to-day activities. Her favorite airlines are Qatar Airways, Emirates, and KLM.

If you’re a frequent traveler, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the infamous announcement asking for volunteers to give up their seats on an overbooked flight. While airlines have made strides in reducing overbooking, it’s still relatively common. And if there aren’t enough volunteers, then what happens? You may be denied boarding.

Read on to learn more about what happens on an oversold flight.


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Hong Kong airport layover
Hong Kong airport

1. Overbooked Flight: Meaning

An overbooked flight refers to a situation where an airline sells more tickets for a particular flight than the actual number of available seats on the aircraft.

This is done based on the assumption that some passengers may not show up or cancel their reservations. However, if all passengers do show up, it can result in more passengers than available seats, leading to potential issues and the need for the airline to find alternative arrangements for affected passengers who are bumped from flight.

1.1 Why Do Airlines Overbook Flights?

Most airlines overbook flights to avoid empty seats and maximize profit.

The main aim is to minimize the number of no-show seats. Airlines know that a certain percentage of passengers won’t show up for their flight, so they intentionally sell more tickets than seats to ensure they’re operating at full capacity.

1.2 What Happens if a Flight is Overbooked?

If all passengers show up, they’ll ask for volunteers to give up their seats.

Airlines usually offer incentives to passengers, such as travel vouchers, hotel stays, or even cash, to entice passengers to voluntarily give up their seats. These incentives can vary depending on how many seats need to be filled, the airline, and the time of day.

Keep in mind that if you are a volunteer, you have a right to care.

Read more:


When it comes to air passenger rights, unless otherwise stated, we talk about air passenger rights in the EU, EEA and UK. When we say Europe or European, we mean EU, EEA or UK. This is done for the simplicity, since the according laws in these countries are about the same.


2. What Happens if No One Volunteers for an Overbooked Flight?

If all passengers show up for an overbooked flight, the airline will ask for volunteers to give up their seats and travel later.

But if the airline is unable to find the necessary number of volunteers to vacate their seats voluntarily, the situation may lead to denied boarding. The airline will start bumping passengers involuntarily.

Typically, airlines ask for volunteers by providing incentives like cash, free hotel stays, or even flight vouchers. If all efforts to get volunteers fail, you may be denied boarding.

If no one volunteers and the airline starts bumping passengers, they must compensate them for their inconvenience. The overbooked flight compensation is based on the length of the flight distance. The longer the flight, the more you can claim (see below).

How do airlines decide who gets bumped? Airlines typically have a priority list for bumping passengers. This list is based on things like ticket cost, frequent flyer status, and the time of check-in. So, if you’re a last-minute traveler who didn’t check in until right before the flight, you’ll likely be at the bottom of the list and more likely to be bumped against your will than someone who checked in days before the flight.

The airline also can deny boarding to someone who is drunk, disruptive, or aggressive. In these cases, the airline isn’t required to compensate the passenger, as it’s their own fault. The flight was not oversold, and the reason for denied boarding is the passenger’s disruptive behaviour. So the passenger is not entitled to denied boarding compensation. The same applies to denied boarding due to visa and passport problems. If you are denied boarding due to these issues, you can’t get compensation.

This is why it’s important to remain calm and courteous when asked to give up your seat, and if you do have to be bumped against your will, make sure to know your rights and the compensation you’re entitled to receive.

Read more: What to Do if Your Flight Is Overbooked?

airBaltic plane on tarmac in Riga Airport
airBaltic plane in Riga Airport

2.1 You Can Get Denied Boarding Compensation

If there are no volunteers who agree to give up their seats and travel later, some people might be denied boarding involuntarily. If you are one of them, you are entitled to receive care and denied boarding compensation.

The regulations in the EU and the UK state that in certain situations air passengers are entitled to receive flight compensation. Involuntary denied boarding is one of these situations.

The amount of EU/UK flight compensation depends on the distance of your flight. Here’s how much you can claim:

  • 250 EUR – if the flight distance is less than 1500 km;
  • 400 EUR – if the flight distance is between 1500 and 3500 km;
  • 600 EUR – if the flight distance is more than 3500 km.

While paying oversold flight compensation may seem like a lot of money, keep in mind that airlines can avoid this by not overbooking.

2.2 You Have a Right to Care

If you are denied boarding, you have a right to care.

Keep in mind that you have a right to receive care even if you are a volunteer, i.e., you have been denied boarding voluntarily.

  • If you have to wait 3 or more hours, you are entitled to a free meal and internet access or 2 calls. If it is not offered, ask your airline.
  • If you have to wait all night or even longer, you are entitled to both food and a free hotel stay + transportation to the hotel and back to the airport. For this you will have to leave the airport, and you may need a visa for transit. Be prepared for that!

Do you have more questions about denied boarding and overbooked flights? Ask in the comments.

About the author:

Co-founder and Editor at Connecting Flights Guide

Una is an organized globetrotter and foodie who’s been living a digital nomad lifestyle since 2013. She always starts her day early with a good book before diving into work. Apart from traveling and aviation, her other passions include gym, hiking and cycling. Una is also a strong proponent of AI technology. She firmly believes in its potential to simplify life and has often advocated for its wider adoption in our day-to-day activities. Her favorite airlines are Qatar Airways, Emirates, and KLM.

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