Overbooking flights is a common practice among airlines. Depending on the previous data, the airline makes calculations on how many seats per flight are going vacant. Each empty seat on a flight incurs a loss to the airline, and when combined, it may amount to a lot of money lost overall. In order to avoid this loss, an airline is overbooked. If you are wondering how an airline knows the number of seats that might go empty per flight, there is a straightforward way to calculate that.

Airlines have data on how many seats are empty per flight on a specific route. For instance, if a flight from Rome to Barcelona has five to eight empty seats per flight due to passengers not showing up, the airline will overbook the next Rome to Barcelona flight by five to eight seats. While the number of overbooked seats often coincides with the number of empty seats, this may not always be the case.


When a flight is overbooked, some passengers are held back from boarding the flight. This happens when all the passengers who booked a ticket show up, including the overbooked passengers. The passengers who are denied boarding due to overbooking are ‘bumped’. Bumped passengers have to face delays and unnecessary hassle by no fault of their own.

Airlines often offer alternative options, refunds, or vouchers that provide a discount on future air travel. However, sometimes reaching a destination is more important, and in such cases, the only viable option is alternative transportation. Many airlines also have specific policies regarding bumped passengers.

So what does one do when bumped due to an overbooked flight? Well, first of all, you should contact the airline representatives and ask them what their policy is regarding passengers left behind due to overbooking. Many flights offer complimentary refreshments, and some even provide phone calls while you wait. You can start by using their facilities while you wait for them to figure out what to do.

Is Overbooking Legal?

It may seem surprising, but overlooking flights is legal. It allows airlines to compensate for passengers who do not show up at the last minute. Each empty seat on a plane is a loss incurred on behalf of the airline. Overbooking allows flights to keep the fares low and also operate without a loss. But if a passenger is denied boarding because of overbooking, it is the airline’s responsibility to ensure the passenger’s comfort during the waiting period and provide a refund, alternative transport, or monetary compensation depending on what the customer demands.

Passenger Rights In Case Of Bumping

According to EC Regulation 261/2004, passengers are entitled to monetary compensation when they get bumped due to overbooking. This monetary compensation ranges from €200 to €600, depending on how much distance the flight was supposed to cover. The buying price of the ticket does not matter. For 1500 km and below, a passenger getting bumped is entitled to €250; for 1500 km to 3000 km, a passenger can receive €400; for over 3000 km, you are entitled to €600.

However, not every passenger left behind due to overbooking can apply for compensation. You are eligible for compensation if you fulfil the following criteria:

  • Checking in on time. In order to qualify for compensation, you need to prove that you checked in on time and not late. The check-in time is often 45 minutes or more before departure.
  • The flight took off in the EU (from any airline) or landed in the EU (provided the airline is headquartered in the EU).
  • Passengers should not be travelling on a free or reduced-fare that is not available to the public either directly or indirectly.


Overbooking of flights is legal because it saves airlines from financial troubles and gives passengers relative freedom in not being held accountable if they do not show up for a booked flight. However, overbooking can often result in trouble when all the passengers who booked a ticket show up. In such events, some of the passengers have to stay back and catch another flight. While this is a hassle, the EU has regulations in place to ensure passengers are well-compensated for their delay. If you are unaware of these regulations, want to find out if you are eligible for compensation, or do not know how to apply, visit our page and find out all about your rights as a bumped passenger.