Af­ter big back­lash, fewer fly­ers are be­ing bumped from flights

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By David Koenig

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.

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