IATE Term of the Week: overbooking


At this very moment, many people are currently on their way to enjoying their holidays, whether in their home country or abroad, and airports are especially busy during this season. While holidays should be enjoyable and free of disruptions, sometimes things do not go as planned. This year has also been notoriously associated with overbooking scandals. For these reasons, the term overbooking has been chosen as this week’s IATE Term of the Week.

In April of this year, “David Dao, a 69-year-old Vietnamese American doctor, was hospitalised after being physically removed from the aircraft to make space for four crew members” in “a United Airlines plane in Chicago” (Euronews, 2017a) and “[l]ess than 24 hours later”, a British couple travelling to Italy was “ordered to leave the flight after” easyJet “sold more tickets than there were seats available” (Calder, 2017). Both airlines practised overbooking and failed to inform the passengers about their rights to compensation and alternative solutions.

IATE defines overbooking as the “practice, where airlines, in some cases, book more passengers on a flight than the number of seats available,” taken from IATA’s (the International Air Transport Association’s) position paper on overbooking.

Here you can see the entry for overbooking in IATE:

Overbooking occurs because airlines “know from experience that not all passengers who booked a ticket will show up for the flight.” However, if all passengers turn up for the overbooked flight, the airline is required to compensate passengers whose boarding is denied (Euronews, 2017c).

In the European Union, airline companies are obliged to compensate passengers “with meals, accommodations or even up to €600” if anything goes wrong (European Parliament, 2017). For example, the British couple “would have been entitled to a sum of 400 euros” (Euronews, 2017c) or should “have been flown out to Italy the same day on another airline” (Calder, 2017). As for the United Airlines scandal, the airline and the passenger “reached a settlement for an undisclosed sum” (Euronews, 2017c).

You can find out more about your passenger rights in the European Union in some of the links included in the sources below.

Contribute to IATE! We would appreciate your contribution to update this term in your language. An IATE terminologist of the relevant language will be in charge of the validation of contributions and, thus, a delay is to be expected.

IATE defintion of overbooking - Woman with luggage at an airport staring at aeroplanes

We suggest that you check some previous IATE Terms of the Week that relate to tourism:

We also encourage you to check related glossaries through our Glossary Links tool and through our recently-updated EU Glossaries‘ list!

Enjoy terminology learning and have a nice weekend!

Written by Pedro RamosTranslator, Social Media and Content Manager, Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg).


  • Calder, Simon (2017) Couple ordered off overbooked easyJet flight at Luton one day after United Airlines scandal. Available at: http://ind.pn/2uoBG34 (Accessed 9 August 2017)
  • European Parliament (2017) Passenger rights: travelling in the EU without any worries. Available at: http://bit.ly/2uoW83O (Accessed 9 August 2017)
  • Euronews (2017a) United Airlines passenger David Dao ‘planning lawsuit’. Available at: http://bit.ly/2vNOXkU (Accessed 9 August 2017)
  • Euronews (2017b) United Airlines and ejected passenger reach a settlement. Available at: http://bit.ly/2vQT0gH (Accessed 10 August 2017)
  • Euronews (2017c) Rights for EU passengers. Available at: http://bit.ly/2vNvbGu (Accessed 9 August 2017)
  • Official Journal of the European Union (2004) Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 295/91. Available at: http://bit.ly/2uuyuD2 (Accessed 9 August 2017)
  • Thomas, Marc (2017) Passenger rights. Available at: http://bit.ly/2vF1w2B (Accessed 9 August 2017)
  • Your Europe (2017) Air passenger rights. Available at: http://bit.ly/2ft42T0 (Accessed 9 August 2017)