What are US airlines overbooking policies?

Posted on May 10, 2017 by admin

In the wake of the national news story concerning the literal dragging of a passenger from an overbooked flight, it is valuable to understand the overbooking policies for airlines in the United States. It is also wonderful to note that many airlines have recently announced a newly adopted “no overbooking” policy.

Overbooking a flight is an elective and legal technique used by airlines to ensure that every flight is profitable. Unfortunately, some travelers are radically affected by being bumped from their flight. Overbooking is purely voluntary on the part of airlines. When it is employed, it must adhere to strict governmental guidelines.

Mandatory Requests

Department of Transportation regulations requires that all airlines must announce an overbooking, and ask for volunteers to be bumped before they select seats themselves.


All voluntarily and non-voluntarily bumped passengers must be compensated in some way by the airline. This can include vouchers for food, hotels, phone cards, future flight ticket, or a monetary sum.


The law allows passengers to make deals with airlines when volunteers are requested for bumping. Someone who doesn’t mind volunteering their reservation can request that compensation become more “attractive.” Most airlines would rather provide more volunteer incentive that make passengers angry.


DOT requires that if a passenger is bumped involuntarily, they must be given written and oral descriptions of the action. They are also entitled to monetary replacement of their ticket.

How Airlines Avoid Compensating Bumped Reservations

Some carriers require passengers to be in a check-in, baggage, or terminal area a certain amount of minutes before a flight. Overbooking announcements are usually made at the same time. Airlines are also not obligated to provide compensation if there is another flight option that is within an hour difference for arrival to a destination. If a flight is changed to another plane with less seating because of a safety issue, the airline does not have to compensate bumped passengers.

In general, the majority of US airlines are extremely generous when it comes to overbooking compensation. Savvy travelers can learn to use overbooking and volunteering to be bumped as a way to earn valuable incentives. When it comes to overbooking it is best to plan ahead, arrive early, and be as patient as possible.