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

Full Disclosure: We may receive financial compensation when you click on links and are approved for credit card products from our advertising partners. Opinions and product recommendations on this site are ours alone, and have not been influenced, reviewed or approved by the issuer. See our Advertiser Disclosure for more details. We appreciate your support!

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 Airlines 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 U.S. Airline Bumps

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 Airlines 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

About Alex Miller

Alex has been traveling for over 25 years and from a young age was lucky enough to set out on numerous family trips all over the world, which gave him the travel bug. Alex has since earned millions of travel points and miles, mainly through maximizing credit card sign-up bonuses and taking every opportunity to earn the most points possible on each dollar spent.

We respect your privacy. Please view our privacy policy here.

Disclaimer: Any comments listed below are not from the bank advertiser, nor have they been reviewed or approved by them. No responsibility will be taken by the bank advertiser for these comments.

1 comment

  1. You don’t spend enough time educating passengers, specifically the once or twice a year travelers, what they can do to avoid getting caught up in all the downsides of air travel.
    You don’t explain what weight and balance mean which is everything at LGA especially in summer. Or the unforeseen like unexpected traffic delays jeopardizing their flight accommodation. How acts of God like bad weather and ATC are not airline control and cause just as much stress on their individual operations and staff as passengers and do not fall under-compensation. Booking at the closest airport to your home isn’t always the best way to go if the other airport can offer a nonstop flight to the destination like a transcon.
    Families who can’t get pre-reserved seats need to arrive at the airport earlier than anyone and no guarantees of being seated altogether but at least one child per parent together and possibly at the gate. Gate agents working the flight have the highest control over seating and asking other passengers to move if that’s what it comes to.
    In your pet travel, you don’t mention that different carriers accept different pets aside from cats and dogs. Cabin pets are restricted and need to be booked when passenger reservation is made and the stand-up and turn around is strictly enforced for animal safety. Smuggling pets on board in unacceptable carriers can result in denied boarding. Nor do you mention heat restrictions for checked pets and high temperatures can result in pet embargoes.
    Publish everything not just the dark side of the force of air carriers. Passengers can help themselves now that all the carriers have merged and the quality of service is not what it once was at the airport and how could it be when the rate of pay and cost of benefits make the industry unaffordable in any large city? It’s no longer a career and the turnover is insane.

    Reply

Any thoughts or questions? Comment below!

Advertiser Disclosure

Many of the credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which we receive financial compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). However, the credit card information that we publish has been written by experts who know these products inside out, and what we recommend is what we would (or already) use ourselves. This site does not include all credit card companies or all available credit card offers that are on the market. Click here to see a list of advertisers that we work with.