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How do commercial flights get overbooked? How is it possible to have more tickets booked than seats available? How do airlines mitigate the risks of having an empty seat?

It’s pretty simple. Not everyone shows up every time. People misconnect on earlier flights, leaving valuable seats open and not generating profit. Sometimes people just forget. OR my favorite. Showing up to the wrong airport. DFW v DAL.

Airlines consistently over sell seats on routes they know are notoriously late or delayed. Typically you won’t see oversold seats on International flights where there is only one flight a day per city pair, but it is still possible just not as much. Now. What if everyone shows up? Well we have 180 seats and 190 paid passengers. Math tells us something has to give. So the negotiations begin. $200 and a confirmed seat on the next flight. No volunteers? Up the ante. You’re thinking, but what if NO ONE volunteers? Then the airlines will be forced to do involuntary denied boarding. And that’s never fun.

They typically go for the last purchased seat or lowest price ticket to determine who is involuntary denied boarding. All in all. It’s a numbers game. Any open seat is lost revenue. So the airlines would rather have every seat full, than one open.

Matt Allen

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