Air­line pas­sen­ger bumps hit low­est level on record

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - ALAN LEVIN AND MICHAEL SASSO

A raft of air­line pol­icy changes prompted by the high-pro­file case of a man who was in­jured while be­ing dragged off a plane in Chicago ear­lier this year have had a dra­matic re­sult: Air­lines re­ported the low­est level of in­vol­un­tary pas­sen­ger bump­ings in mod­ern air­line his­tory.

Tick­eted pas­sen­gers who were re­fused a seat on flights fell to 44 per mil­lion pas­sen­gers from April through June, the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion said in an emailed state­ment Tues­day. That was the low­est quar­terly rate since the agency be­gan col­lect­ing the data in 1995.

The rate was 29 per­cent lower than the same pe­riod a year ear­lier, when 62 cus­tomers per mil­lion were bumped, ac­cord­ing to the depart­ment.

Air­line ex­ec­u­tives were called be­fore Congress, and car­ri­ers raced to change their poli­cies, af­ter a man was in­jured on April 9 while be­ing hauled from a United Air­lines plane in Chicago. The in­ci­dent was cap­tured on video and widely broad­cast on tele­vi­sion and on so­cial me­dia.

David Dao, a doc­tor from Ken­tucky, suf­fered a concussion, a bro­ken nose and dam­aged teeth, said Thomas Demetrio, a lawyer he hired in the days af­ter the in­ci­dent. Dao had been fly­ing back to Louisville and didn’t want to miss his flight be­cause he had pa­tients to see, Demetrio said.

Af­ter re­fus­ing to leave his seat — which the air­line needed so it could trans­port crew mem­bers — air­port se­cu­rity work­ers re­moved him by force.

“Thank heaven the air­line in­dus­try learned from this, and without gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion so far,” Jay Sorensen, an in­dus­try con­sul­tant with IdeaWork­sCom­pany in Shore­wood, Wis., said in an in­ter­view.

Sorensen said car­ri­ers moved more quickly on this is­sue than on the is­sue of planes be­ing stuck on air­port tar­macs af­ter bad weather, which con­tin­ued to oc­cur for years and prompted new reg­u­la­tions that im­posed large fines on car­ri­ers.

The air­line in the spot­light over the is­sue, United Con­ti­nen­tal Hold­ings Inc., went from 957 in­vol­un­tary bump­ings in April, to 61 in May and 46 in June, ac­cord­ing to com­pany spokesman Me­gan McCarthy.

The rate of in­vol­un­tary de­nial of board­ing dur­ing the first six months of the year, 52 per mil­lion pas­sen­gers, was also the low­est recorded for a six-month pe­riod since 1995, ac­cord­ing to the depart­ment.

Since April, air­lines have in­creased the com­pen­sa­tion they pay cus­tomers who are de­nied a seat and made other pol­icy changes. Amer­i­can Air­lines Group Inc., for ex­am­ple, cre­ated a desk that mon­i­tors ev­ery flight that is over­sold and gets in­volved ear­lier to find volunteers will­ing to give up their seats.

Of the 12 air­lines re­quired to re­port data to the depart­ment, a to­tal of 7,764 peo­ple were in­vol­un­tar­ily de­nied seats in the April-June pe­riod, ac­cord­ing to the records. That com­pares with 10,683 a year ear­lier.

The num­bers of in­vol­un­tary bump­ings don’t in­clude the peo­ple who vol­un­tar­ily agree to give up their seats on over­booked flights, of­ten in ex­change for travel vouch­ers. There were 94,151 such cases dur­ing the sec­ond quar­ter, a rate of 531 per mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the depart­ment.

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