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Flight overbooking - what to do and how to claim compensation


We often encounter cases where passengers have been denied boarding because the flight has been overbooked. This is simply another way of saying that the airline is simply trying to make as much money as possible and some passengers will have to be bumped off the flight involuntarily.


Can the airline do this? Yes, it's totally legal, although there are consequences. The airline must compensate you for the seat that has been sold to you but not that you have been unable to occupy.


Overbooking on your flight: more tickets have been sold than the number of seats on the aircraft.


Your rights when your flight is overbooked


If your flight is overbooked and there is a possibility that you will be denied boarding because there are too many passengers, your rights are protected by Regulation EC 261/2004. It states that, as with flight delays and cancellations, the airline must provide you with appropriate care. This comes into play if you have to wait more than two hours for your new flight. The care that the airline must provide takes the form of:


  • Meals and refreshments
  • Means of communication with the outside world (2 instances)
  • Hotel accommodation when necessary
  • Transport between the airport and the hotel


Additionally, you may also be entitled to compensation. Remember that the airline must offer you an alternative flight to your final destination if you have been denied boarding. So, if you are at the airport, approach the airline staff so that they can book you on a replacement flight.


Why do airlines overbook flights?


The reason is really simple. Regularly, passengers do not arrive on time (either at the airport or because an earlier flight has been cancelled or delayed) and some seats are left empty. Therefore, the airline will sell more reservations and make sure it generates the maximum amount of profit. Airlines have enough knowledge about their routes to assess which flights often take off with empty seats. The airline must have filled about 80% of the plane to at least cover the costs of operation.


Another reason why they continue to do so is: the overbooking of flights generally goes well rather than badly. It is very advantageous for airlines to continue on with this practice because there are enough alternatives in the event of a shortage of seats. Passengers can always be upgraded to business class or rebooked on another flight. However, don't bet on receiving this free upgrade if there is an overbooking on your flight as they are usually awarded to frequent flyers.


Is overbooking legal?


The practice is quite unfair to passengers, but it is allowed. However, if your flight is covered by Regulation EC 261/2004, you may be entitled to compensation if you were unable to board your flight due to overbooking.


When am I entitled to compensation if my flight is overbooked?


Your flight will be covered by the European regulations if you fly from an airport within the European Union or if you fly with a European airline.


If your flight falls under the jurisdiction of the regulation, you can claim compensation if you have had to give up your seat involuntarily and the airline has offered you a replacement flight that arrives at your final destination more than 2 hours later than planned in your booking confirmation. Because some different criteria may apply, it’s always smart to check your flight with our free claim calculator.


Voluntary renouncement of your flight


When an overbooking occurs, airlines will attempt to negotiate with passengers to voluntarily give up their seats. Please note that if you have decided to voluntarily give up your seat, you will not be entitled to claim the compensation set out in Regulation EC 261/2004. Generally, airlines will offer you travel vouchers, miles or other options to voluntarily give up your flight. However, remember that if the airline was forced to deny you boarding (involuntarily), it would have to compensate you with 250, 400 or 600 euros depending on the distance of your flight.


Denial of boarding (involuntary waiving your seat)


If the airline has not managed to convince enough passengers, it will be forced to deny the boarding of some passengers in order to operate the flight. If this happens, these passengers will have the right to be compensated according to the European legislation. If you are offered other forms of compensation and accept any of them, you would be giving up your right to the cash payment set out in Regulation EC 261/2004.


How much in compensation do I get if I'm denied boarding?


The amounts are fixed in Regulation (EC) No 261/2004. They refer to the distance your trip covered and are as follows:


  • For all flights covering a distance of up to 1,500 kilometres, you will receive up to £220
  • For all flights covering a distance between 1,500 kilometres and 3,500 kilometres, you will receive up to £350
  • For flights covering a distance greater than 3,500 kilometres, you are entitled to up to £530


The regulation defines the total amounts in euros and they are €250, €400 and €600.


Total sums in compensation for flights being overbooked


The final distance covered takes into account your connecting flights if they are part of the same booking as the flight on which you were denied boarding. If you are not clear about the sum you could receive, check your flight quickly with our claim calculator:


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Example: An itinerary that will entitle you to claim compensation if the flight is overbooked


Not the passenger’s fault:


Travelling from London to New York with British Airways. You arrive at London Heathrow with time to spare. You check-in at the counter, you have all your necessary travel documents and check your luggage. You are offered a paper boarding pass but it’s not needed as you already have a copy on your mobile. You head to the gate and the flight is not even showing on the screen of the gate. After some time, you start noticing that the gate has become very crowded. You are surprised and it seems like it’s going to be a busy flight.


After 10 more minutes, you hear it. The crew calls you and when you arrive at the counter you are informed that because the flight is heavily overbooked there is a possibility that you will have to give up your seat. 10 minutes later, they confirm this as all passengers booked on the flight have presented themselves at the check-in desk and the following question is asked over the loudspeaker: Dear passengers, your flight is overbooked and we need 5 volunteers to give up their seat so that we can leave as soon as possible. Passengers who voluntarily do not board the flight will receive a travel voucher for 400 pounds to be used on another flight with British Airways. 4 people take it. Because you are travelling alone on this occasion, they simply deny you boarding to get to the 5 passengers needed.


Unfortunately, you are left behind and the aeroplane takes off without you. The airline's employees proceed to book you on the next flight to New York, departing in 4 and a half hours. There’s no option but to take it. The good news is that you are entitled to 600 euros in compensation! Roughly 530 in GBP.


Additional expenses must be covered by the airline


It is worth noting here that if you have incurred additional expenses due to being denied boarding because of overbooking, the airline must reimburse you for these expenses (if they are reasonable and you have a receipt for the expenses). As mentioned above, the airline is obliged to provide you with food and accommodation when necessary. If they have not done so and you have had to deal with these issues yourself, you can claim for reimbursement of your expenses.


This request for reimbursement of expenses may be added to your claim at the time of filing with Flight-Delay.


Differences between overbooking and denial of boarding


There is virtually no difference since overbooking will simply be the reason why the airline will deny your boarding. This can also happen for other motives. For example, if there is a technical failure with the aircraft and it must be replaced with a different aeroplane. This could result in reduced transport capacity and some passengers will have to take a different flight. It may also happen that a previous flight has been cancelled and there are too many passengers waiting to travel to their final destination. Please refer to our detailed guide to find out more about how to claim compensation when you have been denied boarding.


The refund of your overbooking flight


Finally, if you have been denied boarding due to overbooking on your flight and this will make your flight no longer worthwhile, in other words, you no longer wish to travel, the airline must reimburse your ticket (in full) and, if necessary, return you to your point of origin.


FlightDelay.co.uk will help you claim your compensation for your overbooked flight



If you have been denied boarding due to overbooking, you may be entitled to compensation. Even if this happened during a connecting flight outside the EU. Your rights are still covered if you were flying from the EU or with a European airline. You can check your flight for free and then choose to submit your claim with FlightDelay.co.uk. We will claim your compensation under our no win, no fee principle. This means that our win-fee only applies if our actions result in the settlement of your claim. Best of all, our commission will cover all costs associated with claiming your compensation, even legal costs! So, don't wait any longer and exercise your rights:


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Learn more about our service, how it works and your rights.


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