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The Top U.S. Airlines Most Likely To Bump You in 2021 [Data Study]

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Alex Miller
Alex Miller's image

Alex Miller

Founder & CEO

296 Published Articles

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Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

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Countries Visited: 47U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Purchasing tickets for air travel always comes with risks and unforeseen circumstances, such as stormy weather conditions and flight cancellations. In fact, Southwest and American have made headlines recently for canceling thousands of flights at the last minute, citing air traffic control issues, inclement weather, and understaffing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cancellations like these and involuntary denied boardings are a huge setback for travelers, especially around the holidays when things are busier than ever and rebooking seems next to impossible.

For this study, we looked at the number of involuntary denied boardings per 100,000 passengers between 2020 and 2021 to see which have the highest number of bumped passengers. We also did a 2021 analysis to see how these trends will affect travel throughout the rest of 2021 and into 2022. This way, you can book your flights with ease and more insight into when you’re taking a bigger risk!

We should mention that we previously created a 2019 data study of the U.S. airlines most likely to bump their customers from their seats. Because of COVID-19’s significant impact on the travel and tourism industries, we decided to conduct a similar study to see how airlines across the country stack up in 2021. Below are our findings.

The Top 5 U.S. Airlines Most Likely To Bump You

Starting us off are the top 5 offenders — the airlines most likely to deny boardings involuntarily for any number of reasons, like overbooking on tickets (and yes, that means you could pay full price for your seat and still not make your flight!).

US Airlines Most Likely To Bump You Top 5
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

Coming in first as the U.S. airline most likely to bump you is Envoy Air (a subsidiary of American Airlines), bumping an average of 6.88 passengers per 100,000 between the start of 2020 to September of 2021. Frontier Airlines places second with 3.73 involuntary denied boardings, with PSA Airlines (like Envoy, also a subsidiary of American) following close behind in third with 3.06 bumps per 100,000 passengers. Horizon Air (a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines) and Republic Airlines (an operator of regional flights for American, United, and Delta) round out our top 5, with 2.37 and 2.05 denied boardings, respectively.

Compared to our 2019 study, passengers may actually have less to worry about when it comes to being bumped — the most likely airline to deny boarding in 2019 was Frontier at 6.28, a number significantly higher than what we see on average in 2020 and 2021 with the exception of Envoy Air at 6.88.

Ranked: U.S. Airlines Most Likely To Bump You

Taking a closer look at denied boardings paints a clearer picture. It’s tempting to see figures such as 1.61 out 100,000 (in the case of Southwest) and think the odds don’t seem too bad, but at scale, this translates to over 1,600 people having to change or cancel their plans last minute. No, thank you!

US Airlines Most Likely To Bump You Top 17
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

Interestingly, while American isn’t one of the most reliable airlines when it comes to seat security, denying boarding to 2.02 passengers per 100,000, one of its regional operators, Mesa Airlines, fares well, with only 0.89 denied boardings. The same can’t be said of American’s other subsidiaries and regional operators, however, with Envoy, PSA, and Republic all sitting near the top of the list for bumps!

The number of bumps per 100,000 passengers drops steadily from Envoy’s position at the top (5.39) to Hawaiian Airlines’ spot near the bottom with just 0.01 bumps per 100,000 passengers. The last 3 airlines in the list — Allegiant, Delta, and Delta’s subsidiary Endeavor Air — all have had zero involuntary denied boardings in the course of millions of flights. If you’re looking for reliable air travel during the holidays or for your next vacation, Allegiant and Delta should be safe bets!

Other fairly reliable options with very few bumps include United (0.04 bumps per 100k) and Hawaiian (0.01 bumps per 100k), with the latter offering a great choice for anyone looking for nonstop service to those picturesque Hawaiian Islands.

Next, we looked at the quarter-by-quarter trends in airline bumps from Q1 of 2018 to Q3 of 2021. Surprisingly, the start of 2018 has almost identical averages compared to Q3 of 2021, with 1.51 and 1.61 bumps out of 100,000, respectively. In between, however, things get interesting.

Quarterly Trends in Getting Bumped by US Airlines
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

The first quarter of 2019 has the highest average number of bumps per 100,000, with 3.08; Q2 of 2019 follows close behind with 3.06. This is a huge spike but does make sense, considering the fairly steady rise in bumps from the beginning of 2018.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders, the average number of involuntary denied boardings plummets unsurprisingly in 2020 (but that doesn’t mean air travel was by any means easy during that time period!). The first quarter of 2020 started off on par with prior trends, with a 1.0 average number of bumps. By Q4, however, that average drops down to just 0.35.

Into 2021, airline travel is on the rise again, along with the average number of people denied boarding involuntarily. The chance of getting bumped from your seat still isn’t as bad as it was in early 2019, and we hope it’ll stay that way!

The U.S. Airlines Most Likely To Bump You in 2021 (Q1-Q3 Analysis)

upgradedpoints airlinebumps graphic v5 4
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

It’s 2021 and people are ready to travel. Unfortunately, involuntary denied boardings are also up across most of the year, from January to September of 2021. Frontier takes first by a significant margin, with 7.33 bumps per 100,000 passengers. By comparison, Southwest has just 3.13 bumps on average in the same time period.

Other commercial airlines most likely to bump you in 2021 include, once again, subsidiaries and regional operators of American — PSA (3.30), Envoy (2.42), and Republic (2.31). These numbers are all a good bit higher than the quarterly averages over the last few years, which hover around 1.5 bumps.

It’s worth noting that some of these airlines with less than stellar track records when it comes to involuntary denied boardings are regional operators or subsidiaries of larger airlines, which is important to consider when evaluating who to fly with.

Methodology

This study looked at the U.S. Department of Transportation reports that show the number of denied boardings (voluntary and involuntary) by U.S. airlines and by quarter in the U.S.

We examined the number of involuntary denied boardings per 100,000 passengers to identify which U.S. airlines had the highest number of bumped passengers. For the quarterly data, we analyzed air travel consumer reports from each quarter between Q1 of 2018 to Q3 of 2021, as at the time of this study Q4 reports for 2021 weren’t yet available to the public.

Final Thoughts

No matter what time of the year it is, airline travel always brings high levels of stress and uncertainty. Around the holiday season, this is especially true — with busy airports, long lines, and the possibility of losing your seat because the airline bumped you!

Wherever you’re headed, you’ll want to know you’ll get there safely. According to our research, Delta is among the most reliable U.S. airlines, alongside United, JetBlue, and Allegiant.

And remember that it’s important to make sure you’re preparing effectively for the travel portion of your vacation, from picking the safest airport for your pets to bringing the best carry-on essentials and being on time for your flight.

Alex Miller's image

About Alex Miller

Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business, The New York Times, and more.

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