United’s most commonly oversold flights

By popular demand I’ve decided to compile a list of United’s most commonly oversold flights, or more precisely, the flights that (in my experience) require volunteers most often. There’s a big difference, since operational considerations can often play a big part in them needing volunteers. Before I go on, here are a couple of posts I’ve written about volunteering on United in the past:

So, you want travel credits?
So, you’re at the gate and want to VDB….

As  I started to compile the list I realized that I’ve been bumped off of just about every route, and that there aren’t just certain routes that always need volunteers. Nonetheless I’ll do my best, but please keep in mind that these are just observations on my part, and not any fancy compiled statistics.

  • IAD-YYZ — I have to be honest. I’ve never flown this route, but every time I walk by the United Express gate for this flight, they’re desperately looking for volunteers. It’s amazing how frequently this flight is weight restricted, and beyond that by how much. I’ve seen days where the 50-seater RJ could only take 35 passengers.
  • IAD-JFK — This is the route I’ve gotten bumped off of most frequently. This route also happens to be United’s most international, in my experience. You have passengers connecting to virtually every corner of the world on both ends, and this route seems to be popular with consolidators, since I’ll often see this route zeroed out weeks in advance, yet hardly any seats are assigned. They tend to require more volunteers in the afternoons and evenings, especially in winter. The flight is typically oversold by one or two passengers, although with a weight restriction.
  • IAD-DFW — What happens when you fly an RJ on a three hour flight? Well, add a full load of passengers, a fuel load of fuel, and just a bit of weather, and you’re looking at some weight restrictions. Last time I was on this flight they were over by seven people.
  • LAX-SFO/SFO-LAX — These have to be the most vulnerable flights in the system. I’ve seen these flights totally empty the night before, only to require 20 volunteers. United loves canceling one flight on this route every day, so if it’s an earlier flight, you might just be in luck.
  • JFK-SFO/SFO-JFK — With around 100 seats on their premium service configured planes, there’s not a lot of capacity on this route. Coach and business are almost always full on this flight, so bumps are common.
  • Hub-SFO — Yeah, I’m sorry, that’s rather obvious, but it’s true. IAD-SFO, ORD-SFO, and DEN-SFO flights during peak business travel days are packed and often oversold.
  • And pardon me for still being obvious, but any flight through ORD in winter. Other people might avoid ORD like the plague in winter, but I fly through there whenever I can. All it takes is a bit of weather and you’re looking at a fun day.

Sorry, this list isn’t quite as “exciting” as many of you had hoped, I’m sure, but it’s the best I could come up with. 

I think it’s also worth noting which flights DON’T commonly need volunteers, despite what common sense (presumably) dictates. For example, flights to Florida during spring break typically don’t need volunteers, in my experience. They only mildly oversell since they know the no show rate is low. Out of all the Tampa flying I’ve done, I’ve only once had the opportunity to volunteer, and I had to turn it down. Booo!

Also, at least in my experience, Thanksgiving is NOT a good time to get bumped. Flights are packed, yes, but the airlines just don’t oversell that much since they know most of the travelers on those days feel that if they don’t get to the airport six hours before departure they’ll miss that darn flight!

So I guess the moral of the story is to stick to business routes and hope for bad weather and weight restrictions. Also, the later in the day the better, since airlines keep “spilling over” passengers from previous flights as the day progresses.

Happy bumps!

Filed Under: Advice, United
  1. I have to second that on the LAX/SFO and SFO/LAX. In the last 14 days I’ve had 4 total segments. Out of those 4 segments, I scored 2 bumps on LAX/SFO flights and a third on a SFO/SAN flight. Twice I was able to get travel credits by following Lucky’s post on the subject, and once the GA told me that it is against United policy to give them out unless it’s an international flight.

  2. United’s most commonly oversold flights? Well, that would be the flight departing at the gate next to my flight. It happened three times this past weekend.

  3. IAD – PDX has got to be the most commonly oversold flight I’ve seen; Portland is a medium sized city and we have one direct United flight daily between DC and Portland, and it always seems to be oversold during the week. 250/251.

  4. Great Post: Let’s not leave out ORD-DCA on most any Sunday late afternoon-evening. On 7/19/09 I arrived 4 hrs early to ORD to drop my wife off for a flight to CLT and checked in for my flight to DCA. I tried to stand by for 2 earlier flights and they were each over for 4 or 5. My flight was also over by 7 and I got a Free Ticket and booked in FC 30 minutes later to IAD.

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