Delta Flight Left The Gate With More Passengers Than Seats

Early this morning Delta flight 1732 from Charleston, South Carolina to Atlanta pushed back from the gate – with more passengers on board than seats. The Boeing 737-900 has 180 passenger seats, but there were 182 passengers on board.

The aircraft returned to the gate quickly to offload the extra passengers, but this is uncommon enough I tried to find out how this happened and why the aircraft was moving back from the gate without everyone on board being seated.

This passenger on board shared that the aircraft pushed back – and then two passengers walked to the front of the aircraft. A “flight attendant came over the PA and mentioned two passengers onboard didn’t have seats and we’d need to go back to the gate to let them off,” he explained.

The plane wasn’t yet on an active taxiway, so it was a quick return. The two extra passengers deplaned, and the flight still managed to operate on time.

According to Delta Airlines spokesperson Kate Modolo,

Delta flight 1732 from CHS to ATL this morning deplaned two employee stand-by passengers who did not have appropriate seat assignments. Our commitment to the safety of our customers and crew remains our No. 1 priority.

Apparently prior to closing the boarding door there were two empty seats that were assigned to non-revenue standby passengers, although the passengers originally assigned to those seats were actually on the aircraft. I often see, for instance, passengers using the lavatory right when they board and before taking their seats.

Clearly the last-minute employee standby passengers figured out for themselves that they lacked seats, and according to one of the passengers on board identified that there was a problem. This all happened almost right away as the aircraft pushed off.

The incident calls to mind two contrasting times recently where planes actually did take off with more passengers than seats.

Pakistan International Airlines boarded 416 passengers on a Boeing 777 with 409 seats for the 1700 mile flight from Karachi to Medina. The extra passengers stood in the aisle. It turns out the captain says he only learned about the situation after takeoff, and the airline didn’t want to dump fuel to land back in Pakistan so they just continued on.

And two years ago a TUI flight operated from Mahon, Spain to Birmingham, UK with seat assignments that didn’t exist for three passengers due to an aircraft swap. The plane carried fewer passengers than planned. Nobody was denied boarding. Instead the family sat on the floor throughout the flight, while using jumpseats for takeoff and landing.

Neither of those things happened here. Delta caught the mistake and returned to the gate. Although I wonder what would have happened if the two seats did appear open because passengers were in the lavatory — and they spent an especially long time there not coming out until the plane was airborne?

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