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8 Tips to Decrease Your Chances of Losing Your Seat to Overbooking

AuthorLorne St. Clair

By Henrik Zillmer


It’s rare for a news story to dominate headlines across the globe.

We’ve all seen the alarming video of a United Airlines passenger being forcibly removed from an overbooked flight at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. It’s left the world stunned.

Clearly, overbooking flights is an ever-increasing problem with some airlines.

According to data from the US department of transportation, last year alone 40,000 people were involuntarily denied boarding on 12 major U.S airlines.

But this incident serves as a powerful reminder that passengers must know their rights when a flight is overbooked.

So while being bumped from flights is more common than you think, there are a number of ways to guard yourself against it.

Here’s a collection of tips to decrease the chances of you losing your seat to overbooking:

1. Join your airline’s frequent flyer program. You are less likely to experience overbooking troubles if you’re a frequent flyer with the airline. To decrease your chances of being bumped, sign up today. You can start racking up the miles while you’re at it.

2. Fly during off peak hours. Fly early in the morning versus in the evening. Statistically, fewer passengers fly at that time. Which means you’re less likely to face trouble with overbooking. Here’s why. As the day goes on, delays and cancellations have a snowball effect, which makes it increasingly likely that flights will be full or overbooked, which, in turn, increases the chances of denied boardings.

3. Raise your investment level. If you book the cheapest ticket, be prepared to get bumped. In many airlines’ Contract of Carriage (including United’s), passengers who purchase the lowest fares are most likely to be denied boarding over higher class ticket passengers. This is strategic for the airlines, since Department of Transportation law requires them to pay a percentage of a one-way fare in the case of denied boardings, not a cash fine. So it makes the most business sense for them to bump the cheapest fare flyers, as the payout will be less compared to the more expensive ticket holders.

4. Check in early and get to the gate on time. For some airlines, it is an actual policy that passengers who check in last, or are last to arrive at the gate for boarding, are the most likely to be bumped in the event of an overbooking. Make sure to always check in early and arrive at the gate on time to avoid the woes of being bumped.

5. Take the early flight. As mentioned above, earlier delayed, canceled and overbooked flights can cause a backlog that ends up making your flight full. What’s more, fewer people will volunteer their seats when it’s the last flight of the day. It’s normally easier to spend an extra night where they are.

6. Check in your bags. Most of the time, it is the passengers traveling without luggage who are chosen to be bumped from the flight. It’s harsh, but the airline doesn’t have to search for your luggage and get it off the plane before take-off.

7. Travel with others. People with disabilities, unaccompanied minors, and people traveling with children are less likely to be bumped. In many airlines’ Contract of Carriage, they make specific reference to this category of passengers. These passengers will be the last people chosen for denied boarding in the event of an overbooking.

8. Fly with JetBlue. Unlike other major US airlines, JetBlue has a policy that includes NO overbooked flights. In some situations — such as flight cancellations and re-accommodation — the airline says that it might create a similar situation, in which case they will provide the owed compensation under Department Of Transport law.

Remember, every journey has its bumps.

But when you know your rights, traveling can become much smoother.

For your next trip, make sure to use these tips to guard yourself against losing your seat.

Flight delays happen, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept them. You may be entitled to as much as $680 in compensation if your flight was delayed, canceled or overbooked within the last three years.

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