After big backlash, fewer flyers are being bumped from flights
DALLAS» After widespread outrage over a passenger who was violently dragged off an overbooked plane, U.S. airlines are bumping customers at the lowest rate in at least two decades.
The Transportation Department on Tuesday said just one in every 19,000 passengers was kicked off an overbooked flight in the first six months of this year.
That’s the lowest rate since the government started keeping track in 1995.
The biggest decline took place between April and June, partly because airlines began paying many more passengers to give up their seats.
Airlines routinely have overbooked flights for years in the expectation that some passengers won’t show up. When a flight is overbooked, airlines typically offer travel vouchers to encourage a few passengers to take a later flight.
That practice backfired in April when United employees, whose offers of vouchers were ignored, asked Chicago airport officers to help remove four people from a United Express flight to make room for airline employees commuting to their next flight.
A 69-year-old man was dragged forcibly down the airplane aisle and other passengers captured the spectacle on camera phones, turning the incident into a public-relations disaster for United.
Since then, United and other large U.S. airlines have introduced new measures to reduce overbooking, and raised the maximum amount of money that passengers can be offered to give up a seat.
Passengers still get bumped, however, and it is not yet clear whether those steps will be enough. While the industry’s rate of bumping passengers fell after the United Express incident, United’s rate did not — it booted 1,064 passengers in the first six months of 2017.
Besides airlines selling too many seats, passengers may get booted when a mechanical breakdown causes an airline to use a smaller aircraft, or when the plane’s weight must be reduced for safe takeoff.
Travelers were least likely to be bumped on JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines and Delta Air Lines. Spirit Airlines had the highest rate of booting passengers, although Southwest Airlines, a much bigger carrier, bumped the most people, 2,642 in six months. United’s rate exactly matched the industry average.