Record Low for ‘Bumped’ U.S. Passenger Numbers in 2017

Photo: REUTERS / Rick Wilking

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The U.S Transportation Department has released 2017 figures for the number of passengers ‘bumped’ off flights, revealing a total of 23,223 passengers were forced off an aircraft or had their flights tickets revoked. This equates to a figure of approximately one passenger for every 29,000 travelers.

The biggest ‘culprit’ was Southwest Airlines, which accounted for approximately one third of all numbers at 8,279, while the airline with the highest rate was Spirit Airlines, with a rate of one bump per 12,000 passengers.

There has perhaps been greater focus on the practice of bumping passengers after an incident last April when a 69-year-old man was forcibly dragged off United Express flight 3411 in Chicago so that his seat could be taken by an employee of the United Airlines group. It has been a common practice for passengers to be bumped in favor of pilots and cabin crew who are transferring to another airport for work.

There has been a recent downward trend in the numbers of bumped passengers as a result of airlines’ proactive measures to avoid such situations, predominantly through offering substantial rewards and or benefits, usually in the form of travel vouchers, for passengers who voluntarily give up their seats or who have bought tickets on an oversubscribed flight.

After the United Express debacle, many airlines reviewed their bumping policies, with the likes of United, Delta, American and others providing airport agents with greater authority to offer even more-attractive bonuses to passengers who are asked to give up their seat. Delta Airlines was the biggest proponent of the reward system for passengers who voluntarily gave up their seats, the number totaling 28,331 for 2017.