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What happens when an Australian airline asks you to get off because it's overbooked?

Experts say a ban on electronic items for certain flights may not end up making passengers safer. (AAP)

Options include getting a seat on another flight on the same day or the next available flight with same airlines or a full refund or a travel voucher from Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin or Tigerair in case you are asked to get off because their flight is overbooked.

Recently, a United Airlines passenger was asked to leave the plane and later dragged out of his seat because it was overbooked.

This video has gone viral on social media with people showing their anger on the passenger’s treatment by the airlines staff.

WATCH VIDEO: Video shows a passenger forcibly dragged off a United Airlines plane

After an outcry on social media around the world, calling for boycotts of United and the company losing hundreds of millions of dollars on the stock market overnight, United Airlines has apologised to the passenger for the incident - although many commentators on social media says that they have not gone far enough.

United CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement: "The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way."

Oscar Munoz Chief Executive Officer
Oscar Munoz, Chief Executive Officer, United Airlines
Oscar Munoz -

Do you know that it is a common practice amongst airlines to sell more tickets than there are seats on the plane?

Overbooking or overselling means that more passengers hold confirmed reservations than there are seats available.

WATCH VIDEO: Why do airlines sell too many tickets? - Nina Klietsch

The next question is what will happen if you’ve paid for your seat, you turn up on time for boarding and are asked to leave the plane because the flight is overbooked?

Well, you can get a seat on another flight on the same day or the next available flight with same airlines or a full refund or a travel voucher.

Let’s see what is the policy related to overbooking in major Australian airlines namely Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin, and Tigerair.


“We take the utmost care in managing each flight, but on rare occasions a flight may be overbooked and we may need to seek a volunteer to change to another flight. In the unlikely event that there are no volunteers, we may need to ask a passenger to change to another flight. If this happens to you, and you arrived on time for your confirmed flight with all required documentation, we will rebook you on the next available flight on our services at no additional cost to you. Alternatively, if you no longer wish to travel, we will refund your fare.”

Quantas airplane


“On rare occasions a seat may not be available to you on your booked flight. This may be due to last minute aircraft changes to smaller aircraft, weight restrictions due to weather, seat inoperability, or very rarely overbooking of flights. In the unlikely event that this happens, we commit to: always try to get you to your destination on the next available Jetstar flight on the day you were due to depart; or if we cannot do so, we will arrange another flight option for you on another airline on the same day, or the next available Jetstar flight, or a refund. If we fail to meet this commitment, call us and we'll provide you with a $100 Jetstar travel voucher. View voucher information and full details.”

A Qantas jet and a Jetstar jet sit on the tarmac at Melbourne Airport
A Qantas jet and a Jetstar jet sit on the tarmac at Melbourne Airport


“If you have been denied boarding for a reserved seat on Virgin Australia*, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. This notice explains the airline’s obligation and the passenger’s rights in the case of an oversold flight, in accordance with regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation. If a flight is oversold (more passengers hold confirmed reservations than there are seats available), no one may be denied boarding against his or her will until airline personnel first ask for volunteers who will give up their reservation willingly, in exchange for compensation of the airline’s choosing. If there are not enough volunteers, other passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with the following boarding priority of Virgin Australia: Subject to factors such as severe hardships, fare type, number in party, on carriage and status within the Velocity and partner loyalty programmes, Virgin Australia will accommodate passengers based upon the time they arrive for check-in.

Virgin Australia aircraft
Virgin Australia (AAP)


"Tigerair will inform you, upon your request, if the flight on which you are ticketed is overbooked. We also will provide information about our policies and procedures for handling situations when all ticketed passengers cannot be accommodated on a flight, and will handle passengers denied boarding with fairness and consistency in accordance with our policies."

Tigerair aircraft seen at Sydney International Airport
Tigerair Australia

In case of overbooking, the process is simple.

First, airlines will ask for volunteers via email, at check-in or even at the gate with refunds plus some extra cash or an upgrade on a later flight.

In case this doesn't work, an airline would then involuntarily deny boarding to any remaining passengers.

As customers of a particular airline, the passengers have agreed to a 'Contract of Carriage' or 'Conditions of Carriage.'

So, the airlines legally have the right to ask you to get off their planes. 

You can read about individual airlines' 'Contract of Carriage' or 'Conditions of Carriage' in detail here: Qantas, JetstarVirgin and Tigerair.