While the vast majority of time passengers will arrive at the airport, check-in, and board their flight without any problems, airlines have been known to bump passengers from a flight.

But are there some passengers that are more likely to get bumped than others?

What are your rights if you are bumped from a flight?

How can you make sure that you aren’t one of the unlucky ones to be bumped from a flight?

Who Gets Bumped on an Overbooked Flight?

The first thing you should know is that airlines will first ask passengers to voluntarily give up their seat in exchange for compensation and incentives, such as money or vouchers.

Passengers can also decide to negotiate with the airline to try and score the best deal.

But what happens if there are no volunteers?

Generally, in the event of no volunteers, the passengers who are most likely to get bumped from a flight are:

  1. Passengers who check in last
  2. Passengers who purchased a discounted fare
  3. Single travelers

Passengers least likely to get bumped include:

  1. Passengers enrolled in the airline’s frequent flier program
  2. Families traveling together
  3. Elderly passengers
  4. Unaccompanied minors
  5. First and business class passengers
  6. Passengers with disabilities

In other words, single travelers who check in last and purchased a discounted ticket are more likely to get bumped from a flight.

While each airline will have their own criteria to determine the priority of passengers who may get bumped from a flight, the airline cannot enforce any unjust or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.

Your Rights if You Get Bumped From a Flight

If you are bumped from a flight, the Department of Transportation require airlines to provide you with a written statement describing your rights and an explanation of how they decided who was bumped.

Compensation When Getting Bumped From a Flight

When You Aren’t Entitled to Compensation

  1. Aircraft Change – The aircraft has been changed due to operational or safety reasons
  2. Charter Flights – This is because charter flights are not part of an airline’s regular schedule
  3. Downgrading – You are downgraded from a higher class to a lower class
  4. Flights Departing From a Foreign Location – This includes international flights to the United States
  5. Small Aircraft: If you are flying on a plane that holds fewer than 30 passengers
  6. Weight and Balance: Planes with 60 or fewer passengers may have weight or balance restrictions applied for operational and safety reasons

When You Are Entitled to Compensation

If you haven’t been bumped from your flight for one of the above reasons, you are entitled to compensation as long as:

  1. You have a confirmed reservation
  2. You checked-in to your flight on time
  3. You arrived at the departure gate on time
  4. The airline cannot get you to your destination within one hour of your flight’s original arrival time

Amount of Compensation You Can Receive

  • 0 to 1 hour arrival delay: No compensation
  • 1 to 2 hour arrival delay: 200% of one-way fare (airlines may limit the compensation to $775 if 200% of the one-way fare is higher than $775)
  • Over 2 hour arrival delay: 400% of one-way fare (airlines may limit the compensation to $1,550 if 400% of the one-way fare is higher than $1,550)

When You Will Receive Compensation

If you are bumped from a flight, an airline must offer you compensation at the airport on the same day.

If you leave the airport before you are provided with compensation, the airline must pay out within 24 hours of the bumping incident.

Can You Tell if a Flight is Overbooked?

There is no guaranteed way to find out if a flight is overbooked, though overbooked flights are more likely to occur during peak travel periods.

You can call the airline and inquire about overbooking if you are worried.

How Common is it to Get Bumped From a Flight?

Fortunately, it is rare for passengers to get bumped from a flight, with the U.S. Department of Transportation reporting that 0.44 per 10,000 passengers were involuntarily denied boarding in the first quarter of 2022.

It’s worth noting that this was actually five times greater than the previous year.

Why Airlines Bump Passengers

Airlines bump passengers because they overbook flights.

Airlines do this because they attempt to account for “no show” passengers, though sometimes they miscalculate and everyone shows up for the flight, resulting in there not being enough seats for everyone who has bought a ticket.

Can You Be Bumped Once You Have Boarded the Plane?

It’s exceptionally rare for an airline to bump you from a flight after you have already boarded a flight.

The only exceptions are if you are deemed a safety, security, or health risk, or you have behaved in a way that is considered obscene, disruptive, or otherwise unlawful.

How to Avoid Getting Bumped From a Flight

1. Avoid Certain Airlines

Some airlines are known for bumping passengers more frequently than others.

When it comes to the major airlines in the U.S., American Airlines are known to be the worst for bumping, while Delta is considered the best.

2. Check in Online

As passengers who check in last are more likely to get bumped from a flight, it’s best to check in online as soon as can, which can be 24 hours before the scheduled departure time.

If you would prefer not to check in online, make sure that you arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before a domestic flight, and 3 hours before an international flight.

3. Have a Seat Assigned

Nowadays, airlines usually require you to pay if you want to choose your seat.

But if you haven’t already chosen your seat on a flight, you may be more likely to be singled out.

4. Avoid Peak Travel Times

Inevitably, airlines are more likely to bump you from a flight during peak travel period times, such as during the holidays.

5. Fly Business or First Class

Business or first class travel isn’t cheap, but it’s very unlikely that you will be bumped if you purchase one of these premium tickets.

6. Enroll in an Airline’s Frequent Flier Program

Having some sort of status with the airline can help you avoid being bumped from a flight, as airlines are unlikely to want to annoy their frequent fliers who provide them with lots of business.

Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.

Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.

Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).