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Which Airlines Are the Worst For Bumping Passengers?

* New look at rules for bumping passengers after United Airlines incident
* Airlines routinely overbook to make up for slim margins
* You only have less than 1% chance of being bumped

As the United Airlines controversy over its removal of a paying passenger continues to dominate the headlines, there’s a renewed interest in what exactly it means to get “bumped” from a flight — and how likely it could happen to you.

Despite United Airlines’ very high-profile blunder, experts say the odds of getting bumped from your next flight on a U.S. carrier are very small. Over the past four years, the Department of Transportation says only 500,000 flyers a year have been bumped from a flight on a major U.S. carrier. That seems like a high number at first, but not when you consider that that’s only 0.0008% of the roughly 615 million passengers that fly each year. And, consider this: the D.O.T. says 9 out of 10 people who are bumped got off the plane voluntarily, usually in return for a cash incentive or voucher for future travel.

Airlines routinely overbook flights, to make up for slim profit margins in the increasingly competitive industry. The amount of seats they overbook is based on odds that certain passengers will cancel, will miss their flight, or just won’t show up. The problems arise, when none of those three situations happen, and you’re faced with having to remove passengers or switch their itineraries.

While United has been receiving the lion’s share of attention, they’re not at the top of the list when it comes to airlines that “bump” most often. That title would go to ExpressJet, who removes about 190 passengers per 100,000 annually, on average, including about 20 passengers who are removed “involuntarily.”

Skywest removes about 175 passengers per 100,000, again with about 20 removed involuntarily. Delta and United place third and fourth when it comes to bumping passengers, though Delta only involuntarily bumped three passengers per 100,000. United involuntarily bumped 9.


Representatives for Skywest and ExpressJet said that, as regional carriers, they don’t have any control over ticketing, reservations or seats, and as their planes are smaller, they are often force to re-assign passengers.

As for United, the passenger at the certain of this recent firestorm, David Dao, has already announced plans to sue. The airline, meantime, has said they are reviewing and changing their removal process on flights.