Airline overbooking - same seat sold twice?

Every time I’ve made an airplane reservation, I’ve been asked to specify a seat of the ones supposedly available. When a flight is overbooked, does the airline have the overbooked persons identify seats that have already been reserved?

I suspect that you are regularly booking well in advance.

Often, particularly if you are booking your flight not long before it departs, you won’t be able to select a seat. The system will tell you that you will be able to select a seat when you check in, or sometimes even at the gate.

What Billdo said. It’s far from universal to select a seat at the time of booking; some airlines don’t offer this at all, or only at an additional fee. In these cases the seat won’t be assigned until check-in. From the perspective of the airline, seats are a fungible commodity up to the moment a specific seat is actually assigned to an individual passenger.

Read these current threads on the same topic then get back to us:

Snark appreciated - but how bout you provide relevant info responding to my straightforward question, rather than linking to a couple of threads whose titles don’t clearly address my question? My somewhat cursory review of them suggests their many posts don’t seem to address it either.

I appreciate the first 2 responses. Hope you got some pleasure out of yours. Tho I suspect you could have actually been helpful with no more time/effort.

I think only rarely have I been denied the opportunity to pick a seat when booking. Nevertheless, when you check in, you will also get assigned a seat even if you did not have one… unless you are so late checking in that you are the end of the pack. Hence, check in ASAP, preferably online close to the 24 hours before when check-in is permitted.

the one time we had a problem, it appeared the plane had some school team on board - so someone checked in a large number of people very early. People on a through flight can check in, it seems, 24 hours before the first leg of the flight leaves, getting a head start on those who join the flight at a stop-over.

So to answer the OP - if you are not given a seat, be a little worried. But then, the airline gambles a portion of the higher-priced (no charge re-booking) typically no-show and re-book, so it does not guarantee you are screwed. We have flown fairly often and never actually gotten denied boarding, let alone knocked unconscious and dragged off.

I am sorry you took my response as snark. It was not intended that way.

I’ve invested at least 90 minutes in the last two days explaining exactly your question. Which is asked, in various forms, and addressed repeatedly through both those threads.

Try these refs in more detail:

Thank you. I believe my blind spot was caused simply because EVERY TIME i buy a ticket for either work or personal travel, I identify a seat when I reserve/pay for the reservation. In my ignorance (and not flying often), I assumed everyone did the same.

My factual question has been answered. I’m not terribly interested in debating what airlines “should” do, and have made clear my dislike for so many things that various actors CAN legally do related to air travel - from trying to identify fares to retrieving your luggage. Suffice it so say, though, that IMO (and given my personal habits) the fairest thing is have the last person to have made their reservation be the first person bumped. You want to insure against inconvenience - plan ahead. You need to make last-minute plans - understandable, but you might be inconvenienced.

All perfectly reasonable.

Some airlines allow customers in their lower tiers (e.g. Gold on AA) to upgrade at no cost to premium seats 24-hours before takeoff. So this folks book seats in the back, but switch when they check in. If you have no status with the airline and book late, there may be no regular seats to choose and you won’t get a seat. But they’ll assign one once someone moves up.

United allows a seat to be chosen. I just did it a few weeks ago, for my daughter.

So yes, if United overbooks, it is by selling the same seat more than once.

I was waiting for LSLGuy, or Richard Pearse to weigh in with some uninhibited samples of their own private, afterwork snark/opinions/uncensored and emotionally honest takes on this Great Public Event for Opinions. In GQ he can get away with withholding them, but I see even in IMHO his O is especially H.


Their system (generally) allow you to choose a seat when you book a ticket, and / or when you check in for your flight, but that option is not always available.

More than once, when I’ve had to book a flight at the (relative) last minute, even though there’s a button to select a seat on the web site, when I go to that seat chart page, I get a message along the lines of “Seat selection is not currently available; your seat will be assigned when you arrive at the airport.” And, similarly, when I check in online 24 hours before my flight, if I hadn’t been able to select a seat when I purchased the ticket, I’ll usually get that same message when I check in. As md2000 notes, it’s a situation that always makes me just a little nervous about being actually able to get onto the plane.

What they are almost undoubtedly not doing (unless their system is malfunctioning) is letting you select seat 21C, and letting someone else also select 21C.

United sometimes allows a seat to be chosen. I’ve booked a ticket with them more than once where I wasn’t given the option.

Presumably they start not assigning seats when they have sold some percentage of the seats on the flight (that percentage might be 100%, or it might not).

I’ve also rarely picked a seat and then been reassigned at the gate. I assume this means someone with higher airline status (or other needs like a disability) has preempted my selection.

Another possibility is that they had to assign a different aircraft to the flight than originally planned, with a different seating arrangement, which then caused a reordering of seat assignments.

One other factor in this might be rewards miles flyers. I believe Air Canada usually books specific seats well in advance, for instance, but when I used my AirMiles to fly to Kansas last summer, it didn’t give me that option even though I booked nearly 3 months early.

I assume that by “premium seats” you mean First and Business class. But American and others also sell “Preferred seats” in Economy.

I’m curious what happens when only Preferred Seats are left and you buy a ticket without a seat assignment (which I believe is possible).

In the past when I’ve booked late occasionally the only non-preferred seats available were middle seats or other crappy options, so I selected that just in order to have a seat assignment. However, I always ask when checking in to see if better seats had become available, which sometimes happens. Once in a while I’ve even been given a preferred seat like an exit row without an extra charge. (That hasn’t happened for some time, however.)

This is about as far as I’m going on the controversial event.

Any threads specifically about the incident were already on page 7 when I first heard about all this. Not much reason to add my small pee to that vast and overflowing swimming pool of bipolar outrage.


No, I am not referring to first or business class. Just the added-cost economy seats. I don’t pay extra for those any more so I don’t recall the labels. They’ll stop assigning seats if they run out of base-level seats, which I ran into when I first started traveling for work. I rarely book much more than a week out.