Delta Air Lines Is Increasing Overbookings. What Does That Mean for You?

Prepare to be bumped

Delta Air Lines Passenger Plane
Isn't modern air travel wonderful?

With fewer COVID-related reservations, travelers are booking airfare earlier in 2023 than they were the previous two years. That’s a fact. But, thanks to the elimination of change fees on non-basic economy fares, they’re still changing their plans at the last minute, leaving open seats on lots of flights.

It’s why, according to a report from View From the Wing citing Airline Observer, Delta Air Lines — who generally sells close to a full flight —  saw a drop in load factor from 85% in the fourth quarter of 2021 to 81% in the fourth quarter of 2022. Consequently, it is now planning to “sell seats earlier and not hold back as much last minute inventory.” What that means, as Gary Leff points out, is that Delta plans to increase overbooking.

“If you were at 103%, on average, and you have two extra points, you just go to 105, in terms of what you’re willing to take,” Delta president Glen Hauenstein said on the carrier’s earnings call. “There’s a little bit of risk in that, so we probably won’t go to 105 right away. We’d go to 104 and see how that works. And then to 104 and a half. That’s why you have to retrain yourself and see what actual events happen.”

And what “actually happens” when a flight is oversold, assuming everyone shows up, is that passengers are bumped.

For the uninitiated, it’s not uncommon for airline passengers to be asked to give up their seats or, worse still, be denied boarding in the event of an oversold flight. According to, it’s actually a relatively common sales strategy that allows airlines to account for “no shows” or cancellations.

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In fact, in 2022, per an Air Travel Consumer report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, nearly 83,000 passengers were either voluntarily or involuntarily bumped from domestic flights in 2022, up from roughly 14,500 in 2021. And while a few unfortunate incidents involving passengers being denied boarding have led to more consumer-friendly policy revisions in recent years, it’s still very much a thing that can happen in 2023.

What you should know is that, right off the bat, if everyone shows up to a flight in which more tickets were sold than available seats, the first course of action is to call for volunteers. All volunteers are generally offered compensation in the form of money or vouchers for a later flight and — as evidenced by the 2019 Air Travel and Consumer report — many passengers do actually wind up volunteering.

It’s only when there aren’t enough volunteers, the airline can invoke their (totally legal) right to bump or involuntarily deny boarding to certain passengers. How those unlucky passengers are determined varies slightly from airline to airline, though the passenger’s check-in time, the fare paid and the passenger’s frequent flyer status are all typically taken into consideration.

That said, if you confirm your reservation, check in and arrive at the departure gate on time, and the airline fails to get you to your destination within one hour of your original arrival time, you’re entitled to compensation. And if there’s a silver lining to be gleaned here, it’s that Delta is typically very generous in that regard.


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