Getting bumped is a double-edged sword. If you’re bumped involuntarily, and you’re on a tight schedule, it’s an inconvenience at best, a trip-of-a-lifetime-killer at worst. On the other hand, if your travel schedule is flexible, you might well volunteer to be bumped, in exchange for a travel voucher worth hundreds of dollars or a raft of frequent-flyer miles.
Either way, it pays to know which airlines are more likely to bump flyers, and which are less likely to do so.
According to a newly released study by MileCards, based on DOT data, U.S. airlines as a group voluntarily bumped 6.6 out of every 10,000 passengers in 2016. Predictably, some airlines were considerably more likely to bump travelers; others less so.
Ranked from most to least apt to bump passengers, here’s how the top-10 U.S. carriers fared, including the number of compensated flyers per 10,000:
- Delta – 10.0
- United – 7.2
- Southwest – 5.9
- Spirit – 5.4
- American – 4.1
- Virgin America – 3.0
- Alaska – 2.9
- Frontier – 1.4
- JetBlue – 0.5
- Hawaiian – 0.3
When it comes to involuntary bumps, the picture changes dramatically, with regional feeder carriers atop the list, bumping 1.2 out of every 10,000 flyers:
- Regional feeders – 1.2
- Southwest – 1.0
- JetBlue – 0.9
- American – 0.6
- Frontier – 0.6
- Spirit 0.6
- Alaska – 0.4
- United – 0.4
- Delta – 0.1
- Hawaiian – 0.1
- Virgin America – 0.1
It’s worth noting that not all bumps results from overbooking. Oftentimes passengers are displaced and compensated when a flight is cancelled or there’s an equipment change to a smaller plane.
While flights are fuller today — average annual load factors now exceed 80 percent for most airlines — bumping incidents have declined, from 11.4 passengers per 10,000 in 2010 to last year’s 6.6-per-10,000 rate for voluntary bumps, and from 1.1 to 0.6 passengers per 10,000 for involuntary bumps. That’s due to more sophisticated booking management and also to an increased focus on minimizing the costs associated with compensating affected travelers, in part due to stiffer compensation requirements mandated by the government since 2011.
So, depending on whether you dread or relish being bumped, the decline in bumping is either a good-news or a bad-news story.
Reader Reality Check
Have you volunteered to be bumped from a flight?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.