clock menu more-arrow no yes

Scandals aside, airlines actually don’t bump that many people off flights

Airlines are seeing their lowest bumping rates in 20 years.

The image of Chicago police forcedly removing David Dao from a United Airlines flight this April may still be engraved in our minds. But surprisingly, the Dao incident — an egregious example of airline bumping — was already exceedingly rare and is becoming more so by the month.

According to a report released yesterday by the Department of Transportation, for the first six months of 2017, the 12 biggest US airlines reported an involuntary denied boarding, or bumping, rate of 0.52 per 10,000 passengers. That rate has since gone down for the second quarter of 2017 to 0.44 per 10,000 passengers. These are the lowest quarterly bumping rates recorded since 1995.

However, if it seems complaints about the airline services are increasing, you’re not imagining it. From January to June 2017, complaints went up 7.8 percent from the number received during the first six months of 2016.

Spirit Airlines, known for its cheap prices, has the highest rate of canceled flights, with 4.1 percent. Delta Airlines had the lowest rate, with 0.1 percent of flights canceled, according to the report.

It’s only been three months since the nation watched a viral video of 69-year-old Dao bleeding from his head after police violently dragged him off a United Airlines flight to make room for crew members. The incident caused a PR fiasco for United and made other airlines review their policies for involuntary bumping or denied boarding.

Only a few weeks after the Dao incident, United reached a confidential settlement with Dao, and the Washington Post reported that rumors circulating in China pegged the amount in the hundreds of millions.

The Dao incident resonated with the public because most people have been frustrated at one time or another by long delays, overbooked flights, or flights that are altogether canceled. Vox’s Matthew Yglesias wrote an explainer in April about why flying is so miserable, attributing many of these woes to business model flaws for the airline industry, with very high costs to buy, fly, and maintain an aircraft.

A huge chunk of these costs could be reduced if we removed one big expense: pilots. A recent Guardian article reports that airlines could save $35 billion a year if they got rid of pilots and flew fully automated planes, according to a report released by the investment bank UBS.

“The average percentage of total cost and average benefit that could be passed onto passengers in price reduction for the US airlines is 11%,” the report read.

However, pilotless planes are still far in the future, so for now, US passengers will have to deal with the same potential flaws of the aviation industry.