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Overbooked Flight? Airline Passenger Rights

Overbooked flights have had their fair share of publicity over the last few weeks and whilst it's not uncommon, the manner in which an airline handles the situation can have vastly different implications from a PR perspective for that airline. A recent example showing United Airlines forcefully removing a passenger led to a media storm that no airline would wish to see. We drill down into the facts surrounding overbooked flights, the airline rights and passenger rights to compensation in the event.

overbooked flight rights

What is airline overbooking?

Air passenger rights have been in the news a lot lately, largely due to the recent news story that saw a man physically removed from the plane after refusing to give up his seat. Why was the man asked to leave his seat? The answer is due to overbooking. The overbooking of a plane is perhaps more common place that you may have realised, with the majority of airlines regularly overselling a flight to allow for passengers who do not show up on the day.

Why do overbooked flights happen?

Airlines purposely overbook flights to compensate for passengers not turning up on the day, however this causes problems when there are not enough no-shows. Suddenly the airline is faced with the dilemma of needing to ask if any passengers would be willing to give up their seats in return for some form of compensation. This is often in the form of vouchers, cash or upgrades. If as a passenger you opt to give up your seat in this way it is referred to as voluntary denied boarding.

Recent cases of overbooked flights

However, what happens when no passengers volunteer to give up their seats? In this instance the airline will select passengers at random to leave the plane, known as involuntary denied boarding. This is what happened in the recent United Airlines example, where a man was forcefully removed from his seat. It was reported that the man did not want to leave his seat and therefore officials had to request law enforcement to physically remove him.

Compensation for overbooked flights

Under EU law passengers who are involuntary denied boarding on an overbooked flight are due compensation of up to €600. This law is for an overbooked flight leaving from any EU airport, regardless of the airline. In addition to being entitled to compensation the airline is also obliged to provide either a refund of the ticket or an alternative means of transport. Your rights in relation to this are specifically detailed under EU legislation as follows,

‘If there are not enough volunteers, the airline may deny boarding to passengers against their will but must compensate them and offer the appropriate assistance set out in the Regulation.’

The amount of compensation is linked to the distance of the flight, as outlined below:

Distance of the flight

Amount of compensation due to overbooking (according to EU legislation)

1500 KM or less

250 EUR

1500-3500 KM

400 EUR

All other flights

600 EUR

What should I do if I am denied a flight?

  • Ensure you have written evidence of your denied boarding
  • Go to the airline ticket desk. You should be notified of alternative flights.
  • Keep all food, accommodation or travel receipts.
  • Make your claim with the airline.
For details on how your car hire may be affected in the instance of an overbooked or cancelled flight please read here. Overbooked or Cancelled Flight – What happens to my car hire?
Kellie Hodge
Posted: April 24, 2017 by Kellie Hodge
About the Author -

Travel writer, customer service guru, Kellie knows the ins and outs of car rental and always happy to share her knowledge on our blog. Favourite country to visit: Spain.

Last updated: Monday, September 11, 2017
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