Bumping Rates On Airlines Fall After Carriers Change Overbooking Policies

Image courtesy of John Kittelsrud

You might remember a little incident on a United Airlines flight back in April in which a ticketed passenger was forcefully removed from a flight after he refused to give up his seat. That incident resulted in several airlines changing their policies related to overbooking flights, and the results of those changes are starting to show: The number of passengers bumped from U.S. airlines is at its lowest level in more than a decade. 

The Department of Transportation’s August 2017 Air Travel Consumer Report [PDF] shows that for the first six months of the year the rate at which passengers have been bumped from flights has decreased to 0.52 per 10,000 passengers.

Dropping Figures

In all, 17,330 passengers of the more than 332 million who flew on the 12 U.S. airlines required to provide such figures were involuntary removed from flights between January and June. This rate, the DOT notes, is the lowest recorded by the airlines since 1995.

It is also 29% lower than the 0.62 per 10,000 passengers — or 20,128 travelers — who were bumped during the first six months of 2016.

For the second quarter of 2017 — April to June — the DOT notes that involuntary bumping affected 0.44 of 10,000 passengers. This translates to 7,764 out of 177 million passengers bumped. This is also the lowest quarterly rate since 1995, the DOT notes.

The data, also known as oversales, are reported quarterly by airlines. Other figures, such as tarmac delays, on-time performance, mishandled bags, and service complaints are reported monthly.

The Drop

While the DOT didn’t provide reasoning for the drop in passenger bumping, the timeframe covered by the latest report coincides with the time in which airlines revamped their policies on overbooking flights.

Those changes were spurred by a very public incident in April when a video surfaced online of a United passenger being dragged from a flight after refusing to give up his seat.


Since then, several airlines — including Southwest and United  — announced changes to their policies related to overbooking flights.

By Airline

For the first six months of 2017, the number of passengers bumped from flights varied significantly depending on the airline.

For instance, Hawaii Airlines reported just 77 bumped passengers of the 5.4 million who flew with the carrier. This translates to a rate of 0.14 denied boardings per 10,000 passengers.

Despite this, Delta had the lowest rate of bumping at 0.10 per 10,000 passengers. However, the airline recorded 650 instances of involuntary denied boarding among the 64 million passengers who flew with the airlines from January to June.

United, which revamped its denied boarding policy, recorded 1,964 involuntary denied boarding instances from January to June. That figure was about even with the 1,800 involuntary denied boarding instances during the same time in 2016.

Southwest, which also changed its policy this spring, recorded 2,642 involuntary denied boarding instances from January to June. That figure is lower than the 4,209 involuntary incidents recorded during the same time in 2016.

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