Delta plays a fascinating game of chicken when it comes to overbooking flights.
And they’re pretty darn good at not involuntarily bumping people.
As many of us know — either from flying a lot or watching Dr. Dao get dragged from a plane — airlines routinely oversell flights. It’s a perfectly legal practice. Airlines gamble that a certain number of passengers won’t show up: maybe they’ll cancel at the last minute, miss their connection, or be affected some other way (i.e. stuck in traffic, whatever).
Why Care About Oversold Flights?
There are several reasons you might be curious if your flight is oversold:
- You’re flying standby, don’t yet have a seat assigned, — and wonder if you’ll even make it on that flight
- You’re confirmed on the flight — but your significant other, friend, colleague, etc., who purchased his or her seat separately is on standby
- Fewer people onboard = more open seats. Maybe no one will sit next to you! Or perhaps there’s a spot where you can move and have more room
- My personal favorite: bumps and #Bumpertunities! (We’ll soon create an updated post about bumps)
How Can You Tell if a Flight is Oversold?
Ask The Airline!
The best way (at least, as far as I know) to check if your flight is oversold is simply to ask the airline. So consider querying:
- Reservations agents via the airline’s toll-free number
- Tweeting the airline’s help desk (i.e. @delta)
- Asking a check-in agent
- Asking a gate agent
- Asking an airline’s club lounge agent (i.e. Delta Sky Club — not The Club or American Express Centurion Lounge)
Airline reps will tell you whether or not your flight is oversold. If your flight is indeed oversold, they likely won’t tell you by how many. They don’t know if you’re spying for another airline, prying for nefarious reasons, or what.
That being said, a few reps have told me “we’re oversold by one” or “yep, by four.” Maybe they’re telling the truth, maybe they’re making up numbers (though I tend to think the former).
Consult Expert Flyer
If you have an Expert Flyer pro subscription, search for your flight. If all available fare classes — especially in coach — show zero seats available several hours to an hour or so prior to your flight, there’s a decent chance it’s oversold.
Is Your Flight Still for Sale?
Visit the airline’s website or app. Try shopping for your flight. If it’s no longer listed or says “sold out” for at least coach/main cabin, there’s an OK chance it’s oversold.
Check the Upgrade and Standby List
This the least reliable option, in my opinion.
Let’s use Delta Air Lines as our example airline for this situation.
You’ll find the upgrade and standby list on the Fly Delta app and gate information display screens (or “GIDS”).
You may see 10 seats available on the standby list — and 20 people waiting for seats. Does that mean your flight is oversold? Not necessarily.
Those 20 may include some non-revenue passengers (“non-revs”): airline employees traveling for free as part of their travel benefits, people using buddy passes, etc. They aren’t necessarily guaranteed seats. (I believe Basic Economy passengers are also placed on the standby list prior to seat assignment.)
And, of course, people flying standby but yet not assigned seats are also included in that number.
Any Other Tips?
Do you have any other suggestions to ascertain whether or not a flight is oversold? Please share them in the Comments section!
This blog series covers in a “rookie” way either a Delta or travel related theme and attempts to break down to a basic level each topic. You can read up on all the previous posts HERE. Are you an experienced traveler but know someone may benefit from this post? Please share it!
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