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The U.S. Airlines Most Likely to Bump You [Data Study]

Alex Miller's image
Alex Miller
Alex Miller's image

Alex Miller

Founder & CEO

288 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 34U.S. States Visited: 29

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

29 Published Articles 3093 Edited Articles

Countries Visited: 45U.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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Since it’s almost the end of the year, peak travel season is quickly approaching as everyone heads home for the holidays.

If you’ve ever been one of those people who have been left stranded at an airport for hours, you know that there is nothing more frustrating than getting bumped from an overbooked flight when you’re trying to get home.

With this in mind, we decided to take a closer look at flight data to see which U.S. airlines are most likely to bump you from your flight. This way, you’ll know if you’re taking a bigger risk of being bumped by which airline you fly.

We looked at the year-over-year change in involuntary denied boardings from the top U.S. airlines to see which have the highest number of bumped passengers.

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

US Airlines Most Likely To Bump You - Involuntary Denied Boarding 2018 Data - Upgraded Points

Based on our analysis, we found that the U.S. airline with the highest number of involuntary denied boardings per 100,000 passengers was Frontier Airlines, which had 6.28 bumped passengers per 100,000 people.

Spirit followed with a 5.57 bumped passengers per 100,000. These 2 airlines were around 2 times as likely to bump passengers than the remaining 3 airlines in the top 5: Alaska Airlines, PSA Airlines, and American Airlines.

Ranked: The U.S. Airlines Most Likely to Bump You

Airline bumps are a part of the reality of air travel, and every time you book a ticket, you run the risk of being denied boarding. However, there are significant differences in your chances depending on which airline you book your trip on.

US Airlines Most Likely To Bump You - Involuntary Denied Boarding 2018 Data - 2 - Upgraded Points

For example, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines actually had by far the highest number of bumped passengers. However, due to the high volume of enplaned passengers, the percentage of people who were bumped was quite low.

Only 1.95 American Airlines passengers were bumped for every 100,000 who traveled in 2018 and only 1.5 passengers were bumped for every 100,000 Southwest passengers in 2018.

On the budget airline front, Spirit Airlines actually had the highest number of involuntary denied boardings based on our research, but due to the higher volume of passengers, their ratio of bumped passengers to total passengers is better than Frontier Airlines.

Frontier Airlines had a high number of involuntary denied boardings and a lower number of overall passengers. This made it the worst airline for bumps in 2018 with a whopping 6.28 per 100,000 passengers getting bumped.

Delta Air Lines hits the sweet spot of having a huge amount of enplaned passengers and only 22 bumps in 2018. Out of over 138 million passengers, only .02 per 100,000 Delta passengers were involuntarily bumped. All in all, if you’re trying to make it home in time for dinner, Delta likely has you covered.

Quarterly Trends in Getting Bumped by US Airlines - Upgraded Points

According to our research, getting bumped is actually becoming less common. Rates were at an all-time high in the second half of 2016, a trend that carried into the first half of 2017.

However, in Q3 of 2017, there was a substantial drop in the rate of involuntary denied boardings, from 4.38 passengers per 100,000 being bumped to just 2.09 passengers per 100,000 being bumped.

However, the trend reversed itself with the grounding of Boeing 737 MAX Aircrafts in March of 2019, which lead to an influx of overbooking. This resulted in an almost doubled rate of bumps in Q1 and Q2 of 2019 when compared to the second half of 2018.

Exploring Boeing 737 MAX Aircraft Grounding’s Impact on U.S. Airlines

The US Airlines Most Affected by the Boeing 737 MAX Aircraft Grounding - Upgraded Points

PSA Airlines and Mesa Airlines were the U.S. airlines hardest hit by the grounding of Boeing 737 Max Aircrafts. In both cases, their Q1-2 bump rates shot up by over 1,000% and resulted in over 10 people bumped per 100,000 passengers.

Close behind were Allegiant Air and American Airlines, both of which experienced a bump rate increase of over 500%.

However, not every airline was negatively impacted. United, Frontier, Alaska, and Spirit Airlines all experienced a drop in involuntary denied boardings since Boeing 737 MAX aircrafts were grounded.

These airlines appeared to either not be affected by the grounding of those aircrafts or they were able to quickly compensate for the additional passengers that booked tickets on their airlines. Either way, it’s a promising trend to see.

Analysis Methodology

This study looked at the U.S. Department of Transportation report that shows the number of denied boardings (voluntary and involuntary) by U.S. airline and by quarter in the United States.

We examined the number of involuntary denied boardings per 100,000 people to identify which U.S. airlines had the highest number of bumped passengers.

The year-over-year calculation is based on the percentage change in the count of passengers who were bumped from Q1-2 of 2018 to Q1-2 of 2019.

Final Thoughts

There’s always a risk of unforeseen circumstances when you book travel on an airline, but according to our research, Delta Air Lines is the most reliable U.S. airline!

Traveling is a stressful process at the best of times, but especially around the holidays. Make sure you’re preparing effectively for the travel portion of your vacation, whether it’s packing the right carry-on essentials or choosing the right airport for your pet’s travel needs.

Don’t forget, there are a number of travel credit cards that offer trip cancellation coverage which could potentially help in situations like this.

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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