U.S. airlines are bumping passengers at historically low rates

Demonstrators protest outside the United Airlines terminal at O'Hare International Airport on April 11, 2017, in Chicago after a video was posted online showing passenger David Dao being dragged from his seat.
(Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Amid a series of onboard incidents that became fodder for viral videos, the nation’s biggest airlines are bumping fewer passengers than ever.

In the April-through-June quarter, the 12 biggest carriers reported denying passengers a seat at a rate of 0.44 fliers per 10,000 passengers, the lowest three-month rate since the U.S. Department of Transportation began tracking the data in 1995.

The bumping rate for the first six months of the year was 0.52 per 10,000 passengers, marking the lowest rate for any January-through-June period since 1995, the DOT reported.


Federal law allows airlines to overbook flights to make up for passengers who fail to show up to claim their seats. But if an airline miscalculates and ends up with more passengers than seats, carriers can bump travelers as long as the airlines rebook the travelers on another flight or offer fair compensation.

The steep decline in the rate of passenger bumping comes at a time that U.S. airlines have taken heavy criticism for removing fliers from overbooked flights, creating onboard drama that has been videotaped and seen by millions of viewers online.

In April, Dr. David Dao was bloodied as he was dragged from his seat after refusing to give it up on a United Airlines flight. Later that month, a family flying home from a Hawaiian vacation was booted from a Delta Air Lines flight after a dispute over seating for a toddler.

In May, a family was removed from a JetBlue Airways flight to Las Vegas over an argument about where to store a birthday cake on the plane.

In the wake of such incidents, Southwest Airlines promised to stop overbooking flights and United Airlines said it would dramatically cut down on overbooking. JetBlue said it has long had a policy forbidding overbooking.


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