After two years of historically low rates of involuntarily bumps on U.S. airlines for reasons of overbooking, the number is again on the rise. Anticipated record crowds at the airport along with the continued grounding of all Boeing 737 Max aircraft are expected to keep this particular stat trending higher.
Following the public backlash over the violent removal of a 69-year-old physician from an overbooked flight at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), U.S. carriers made a point of reducing the number of passengers involuntarily bumped from commercial flights. The changes in policies after Doctor Dao was violently dragged from his oversold United Airlines flight were almost immediately apparent, but according to the latest Department of Transportation (DOT) statistics, the number of flyers involuntarily denied boarding is once again on the rise.
Within months of the now infamous incident aboard United Express Flight 3411, U.S. airlines had implemented new rules and the number of bumped passengers was at a near historic low. In fact, according to the DOT, airline bumping was at its lowest rate in decades even before public outcry over the brutal treatment of Doctor Dao. By the second quarter of 2018, however, after a steady decline following the ORD incident, rates of passengers who were involuntarily denied boarding hit an all-time low in the second quarter of 2018. The latest numbers from the DOT, however, show that more passengers were bumped from oversold flights in the first quarter of 2019 than at any point since new airline policies were put in place in 2017.
With an all-time high in air travelers expected to pass through U.S. airports this summer travel season, and an order which continues to ground hundreds of Boeing 737 Max passenger planes, the rate of involuntarily bumped flyers is only expected to rise for the foreseeable future. There is also some indication that airlines are much more willing to involuntary bump passengers now that the glare of the public spotlight and news headlines on the practice have abated with time.
Of course, passengers on some U.S. airlines are much more likely to be bumped from their flights than passengers on other carriers. According to the latest DOT numbers, flyers are much more likely to get bumped from an ultra-low-cost carrier than one of the big three legacy carriers. During the time Spirit Airlines involuntarily denied boarding to more than 1,800 of the 23 million passengers it boarded (78 out every million passengers), Delta Airlines bumped just three passengers for every million flyers who traveled on the airline. JetBlue only denied boarding to 2 of every million of its flyers. Meanwhile, Alaska bumped 28 of every million flyers, Southwest denied boarding to 41 passengers per million and Frontier a whopping 55 passengers per million. United Airlines bumped 24 passengers per million and American Airlines denied boarding to approximately 24 of each million of its customers.
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