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Delta Warns It Will Ramp Up Overbooking on Flights—Could You Get Bumped?

An executive with the airline says the company doesn't want to "cause a disruption."

Out of all the things that can go wrong while traveling, getting all the way to the airport only to find you've been bumped from your flight is arguably at the top of the list. Unlike widespread technological errors or weather delays, the dreaded occurrence can seriously derail travelers' itineraries seemingly out of nowhere. And now, Delta Air Lines is warning that it will ramp up overbooking on flights in the coming months. Read on to see if you could get bumped during the busy summer travel season.

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Delta is seeing a significant surge in demand for seats on their flights.

Passengers check in with luggage for flight to New York JFK at the Delta Air Lines desk in Tegel Airport, the main international airport of the capital of Germany.

As the airline industry continues to rebound from its lows during the COVID-19 pandemic, many carriers are finding that travelers are eager to take to the skies again. During an earnings call on April 13, Glen Hauenstein, president of Delta Air Lines, discussed how 2023 had brought a significant surge in bookings so far, generating nearly $550 million in revenue and anticipating higher growth as the summer travel season kicked off.

"We delivered record March quarter revenue with total unit revenue that was 16 percent higher than the same period in 2019. These results reflect the strength in the underlying demand environment and continued momentum in premium products and loyalty revenue," he said.

Executives also said they're considering increasing overbooking on flights.

iStock / kieferpix

But while the booking boom is good for Delta's bottom line, the carrier is still toying with ways to keep the company as profitable as possible. When asked about how the airline intended to increase revenue despite cutting back on its overall capacity over the past few months, Hauenstein replied that the carrier was considering increasing overbooking on flights to help take advantage of the increased demand for seats.

"If you were at 103 percent on average, and you have two extra points, you just go to 105 in terms of what your ability to take is. There's a little bit of risk in that," he said on the call. "And so we probably won't go to 105 right away. We go to 104, see how that works."

This means that even with Delta already selling three percent more seats on flights than are currently available, the carrier is considering bumping up their numbers to 104 percent to see if it can go as high as 105 percent, according to Simple Flying.

When reached by Best Life via email, Delta had no further comment.

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All airlines use overbooking, but COVID-era changes have created new challenges.

Close up of a man holing airplane ticket, blurred background.

It might seem strange for airlines to continue to oversell flights at a time when they're already struggling with reliability issues brought on by staffing shortages and technological shortfalls. But overbooking is a common practice in the industry on many popular flights as a way for companies to hedge bets against potential no-shows or last-minute changes, Insider reports.

Booking more spots than are available can theoretically help guarantee that every seat will be filled with paying customers. But while each carrier factors in the probability of empty seats, the mathematics has shifted due to COVID-era policy moves that did away with fees for changes or last-minute cancellations, Insider reports. Now, carriers are recalculating what their rates should be.

Of course, airlines aren't off the hook if they need to bump a passenger from a flight. Overextending reservations can lead to enticing offers from airlines to voluntarily give up a seat. This includes one incident last summer when Delta offered travelers $10,000 apiece for their slots on a flight from Michigan to Minneapolis, Simple Flying reported.

Delta says it's trying to avoid a "disruption" with its overbooking changes.


Even though he admitted Delta was looking into increasing overbooking, Hausentein assured participants on the earnings call that it wouldn't take things too far too quickly.

"You have to retrain yourself and see what the actual events happen because these are changing in relatively condensed time periods," he said. "We don't want to overshoot and cause a disruption, so we're going to be a little bit more careful on getting that real-time."

And the carrier isn't just using its data to change how many seats it sells per flight. It's also making changes to its route map and aircraft size based on the shifts in demand that have taken place to make it more efficient, per Insider.

"We now have the real post-pandemic travel patterns which are very different in terms of cities that people fly to and places they want to go," Hauenstein said.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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