Airline passenger bumps hit lowest level on record
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.