After the global indignation over the incident, which saw a passenger get dragged off a United Airlines flight, American carriers are now bumping customers off at the lowest rate in the last 20 years.
According to data made available by the Transportation Department, only one in every 19,000 passengers was kicked off an overbooked flight in the first six months of this year, resulting in the lowest rate since the government started keeping track in 1995.
The biggest drop happened between the months of April and June, partly because carriers started to give more compensation to passengers who give up their seats.
It has been a common industry practice for airlines to overbook for years as they operated under the assumption that some passengers will not show up. When a flight is overbooked, airlines usually offer travel vouchers to encourage a few passengers to take a later flight.
That practice blew up in their faces back in April when United employees, whose offers of vouchers were snubbed, requested Chicago airport officers to help remove four people from a United Express flight to make room for airline employees moving on to their next flight.
Later on, a 69-year-old man was dragged off the plane, the images of which were captured on video and spread worldwide, turning the incident into a public-relations nightmare for United Airlines.
Since then, United and other large U.S. airlines have begun using updated measures to lessen overbooking, and elevated the maximum amount that passengers can be offered to give up a seat.
However, passengers still do get bumped and it is not yet clear whether those steps will be sufficient enough. While the industry’s rate of bumping passengers tumbled after the April incident, United’s rate ironically did not — it bumped off 1,064 passengers in the first half of 2017.
Aside from airlines selling too many seats, passengers may get booted when a mechanical breakdown causes an airline to utilize a smaller aircraft, or when the plane’s weight must be lessened for a safe takeoff.
The carriers that were least likely to bump off passengers JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines and Delta Air Lines. In contrast, 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 in the industry average.
United, JetBlue, Delta and Southwest all convinced more passengers to give up their seats than they had in the same period a year ago.