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Know your rights as a traveler on overbooked flights.
USA TODAY

Southwest Airlines will end its practice of overbooking, the carrier’s CEO said Thursday morning.

“The company has made the decision that we’ll cease to overbook going forward,” Southwest chief Gary Kelly said while discussing the company’s quarterly earnings on CNBC. “We’ve been taking steps over the last several years to prepare ourselves for this anyway. We never like to have a situation where we we’re oversold … .”

Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King confirmed that airline’s plan, adding that it could be implemented as soon as May 8.

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“Southwest is changing our policy and will no longer book flights over capacity as part of the selling process,” King said in a statement to USA TODAY’s Today in the Sky blog. “As we have dramatically improved our forecasting tools and techniques, and as we approach the upcoming implementation of our new reservations system on May 9, we no longer have a need to overbook as part of the revenue management inventory process.  The improved reliability allows us now to change Southwest’s overbooking policy and enhance our customer-friendly hospitality, the over-arching philosophy at the heart of 45-plus years of success at Southwest.”

Still, King cautioned that Southwest still might find itself with more customers than seats in certain situations.

“This doesn’t mean flights never will be over capacity as we approach departure time,” King added. “Occasionally, operational challenges will have our airport-based employees asking for volunteers, but that will happen much less frequently because overbooking to customers in advance will be off the table as a consideration.”

As for the decision to halt overbooking, CEO Kelly gave his answer when asked if the airline industry should reconsider the practice after the subject became a hot topic in the wake of United’s passenger-dragging incident earlier this month.

“I think that’s an airline-by-airline decision. I’ll speak for Southwest Airlines,” he said to CNBC. “We overbook very, very modestly today. The reason we overbook is to try to fill empty seats. To the extent we’re able to do that, we’re able to keep the rest of our fares lower.”

Despite that, the practice will come to an end at the USA’s biggest low-cost carrier.

“At least for us, it’s something we will be…