Airlines Are Now Bumping Far Fewer Passengers

Over the past year, domestic carriers have been working to tackle issues such as overbooking, which has resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of people who have been denied boarding on their flights.

Airlines Are Now Bumping Far Fewer Passengers

U.S. carriers have reduced the number of people who were involuntarily bumped by 66 percent.

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Airlines have significantly reduced the number of passengers they bump from planes, according to a recent report released by the U.S. Department of Transportation. In fact, some airlines have cut the number of passengers who have been denied boarding almost entirely. And there’s a reason for the dramatic falloff.

“Last year, we committed to earn back customer trust by avoiding putting our customers, employees and partners into impossible situations due to policies we control and reducing incidents of involuntary denial of boarding to as close to zero as possible,” United Airlines spokeswoman, Maggie Schmerin, told AFAR.

Indeed, United has reduced the number of passengers who were involuntarily denied boarding by nearly 97 percent in the past year, down to just 70 people (out of 74.4 million passengers) between January and September 2018, compared to 2,067 people (out of 70 million passengers) during the same period last year.

That steep decline comes after an April 2017 incident involving a passenger who was forcibly removed from an overbooked United flight, which garnered widespread media attention.

Since then, United said it has taken several steps to achieve its goals. Last year, the airline introduced a new customer service training program focused on being safe, caring, dependable, and efficient. It has also addressed the issue of overbooking.

“We made adjustments to reduce overbookings on flights that historically have experienced lower volunteer rates, particularly flights on smaller aircraft and the last flights of the day to a particular destination,” Schmerin said.

Additionally, as of April 28, 2017, United began a policy of offering customer compensation for denied boarding of up to $10,000, despite the fact that the Department of Transportation only requires compensation of up to $1,350. And in fact, earlier this year, United did offer an airline passenger, Allison Preiss, who got bumped from her flight, a $10,000 travel voucher.

This is how badly United didn’t want to give me cash: — Allison M. Preiss (@allisonmpreiss) March 22, 2018

United isn’t the only airline that has seen a huge dip in the number of passengers being denied boarding. Overall, U.S. carriers as a whole reduced the number of people who were involuntarily bumped by 66 percent to a total of 7,387 people in January through September of 2018, compared to 21,917 people during the same period last year.

Other airlines that saw big dips for the first nine months of this year compared to the first nine months of 2017 included:

  • JetBlue, which was down to just 23 people who were involuntarily denied boarding in 2018, from 1,475 last year (or a 98 percent drop);
  • Delta, which dropped down to 22 people who were involuntarily denied boarding in 2018, from 679 last year (or a nearly 97 percent drop);
  • Hawaiian, which saw its numbers drop to just seven passengers, down from 92 last year (or a 92 percent decline);
  • American, which dropped to 1,041 people, compared to 4,517 in 2017 (or a 77 percent decline);
  • and, Southwest, which dropped to 2,012 people, down from 6,678 in 2017 (or a 70 percent decrease).

According to the Department of Transportation, the practice of bumping is not illegal. “Airlines oversell their scheduled flights to a certain extent in order to compensate for no-shows. Most of the time, airlines correctly predict the no-shows and everything goes smoothly. But sometimes, passengers are bumped as a result of oversales practices,” the DOT explained on its website.

But before bumping passengers involuntarily, airlines must first ask passengers to give up their seats voluntarily, in exchange for compensation. If not enough people volunteer, the airline can deny boarding based on criteria such as the passenger’s check-in time, the fare paid by the passenger, or the passenger’s frequent flyer status.

Being involuntarily denied boarding doesn’t automatically entitle a passenger to compensation. For instance, if a smaller plane is swapped in for a larger airplane due to operational or safety reasons, compensation is not required. It is also not required on charter flights, on aircraft that carry fewer than 30 passengers, or on international flights to the United States (although the European Commission has rules regarding compensation for bumping passengers that apply to flights departing from the European Union, so passengers may still be covered in that regard).

But if an airline requires you to give up your seat on an oversold flight and you had a confirmed reservation, you checked in on time, you arrived at the departure gate on time, and the airline cannot get you to your destination within one hour of your flight’s original arrival time, you are entitled to compensation.

>> Next: The Upsides of Getting Bumped From a Flight

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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