SAS and airBaltic pioneer “bumping” in Europe

Flight bumping – a new era in passenger travel?



Airlines have always been active in trying to secure full flights and maximise revenues. But as part of these strategies, many opt for unconventional procedures that do not align with passengers’ rights, Euromonitor says.

“Bumping”, or denying passengers the right to board a plane, has been an unofficial industry norm for many years. But there are differences between the practices of airlines in North America and their counterparts in Europe. And some passengers are learning to use the practice for their own gain.

Overbooking a flight is one way for an airline to secure against losses when passengers do not arrive for their trip, which, in most cases, does not entitle them to a full refund. With more confirmed bookings than seat capacity, airlines are ready to buy out volunteers who are willing to take the next flight in exchange for compensation or a travel voucher.

The practice is so common in North America that airlines even advertise it as an option via their marketing tools or booking platforms or via external websites such as

Some airlines even offer travellers the opportunity to choose from several different financial rewards when checking in – specifically how much a passenger will accept to give up his/her seat.

In North America, bumping is well rooted in the practices of local airlines, which has earned them problems with local authorities. According to the US Department of Transportation, during January-September 2013, there were 43,221 involuntary denied boardings of passengers in the US and 355,125 voluntary bumpings.

Sometimes there are heavy fines. Delta Air Lines, for example, was fined $750,000 by the US Transportation Department in 2013 for denying passengers access to board a plane without reimbursement. In 2009, the figure was just $375,000. Canada has also introduced tougher control measures.

The situation differs in Europe, where passengers can get compensation for any delayed or cancelled EU-regulated flights. Bumping does not appear to have the same attraction here. That said, airBaltic and SAS are two airlines in Europe that already offer multiple booking choices through websites such as

Airlines which are losing passenger revenues and which do not have the financial muscle to counterbalance this impact are most likely to be tempted to embrace bumping as part of their practices, Euromonitor says. Such strategies could also take off in Europe with the help of low-cost airlines, especially as they are increasingly courting business travellers and offering more perks for flexibility-seeking corporate travellers.


[photo courtesy SAS]

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