A government-issued consumer report finds a silver lining to the widespread outrage over images of an elderly flyer being violently removed from an overbooked United Airlines flight.
Air travelers holding confirmed reservations are much less likely to find themselves involuntarily denied boarding on flights in the US in recent months. Passengers can, in part, thank policy changes put in place in the wake of serious public relations missteps by the airlines for the historically low number of flyers being left behind at the gate.
According to the latest US Department of Transportation (DOT) data, the number of airline passengers who were involuntarily denied boarding reached its lowest rate in more than two decades. The just-released Air Travel Consumer Report finds that fewer passengers were bumped from commercial airline flights than at any point since 1995. In the first two quarters of 2017, US airlines reported bumping at a rate of just .52 per 10,000 passengers flown. That rate was thanks primarily to a precipitous drop in the number of bumped passengers during the second quarter of this year – only .44 flyers in 10,000 were involuntarily denied boarding during this period.
It’s no coincidence that the shifting trend comes in the wake of US carriers rethinking policies in the wake of a series of black eyes involving the handling of passengers on overbooked flights. Legacy and low-fare airlines alike have quietly evaluated how bumped passengers and (more importantly) volunteers are compensated. While federal regulations allow airlines to oversell a certain number of seats, carriers have, in some cases, even taken it upon themselves to voluntarily decrease the number of overbooked seats sold on some flights.
In June, United Airlines alone announced that the number of passengers involuntarily bumped from flights in May had decreased by nearly 80 percent over the previous month. The marked decrease in denied boardings followed an ugly incident in which the airline made front page headlines around the world when images came to light of an elderly physician being violently removed from an overbooked flight at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) in April.