Passengers checking-in at the airport

US airlines most likely to bump passengers

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May 12, 2022
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US airlines most likely to bump passengers

If you’re flying an airline that’s not Southwest, chances are you received a seat assignment when you purchased tickets. With your spot on the plane secure, it’s easy to forget to check in until arriving at the airport. But imagine running late and getting through the check-in line just to be told you don’t have a seat.

It might sound ludicrous: How could you not have a seat if you paid for one? But bumping is standard practice for most carriers.

Stacker collected information from the April 2022 Air Travel Consumer Report released by the U.S. Department of Transportation using data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics to rank airlines based on how often they “bump,” or deny boarding, passengers. Passengers are bumped when the airline oversells a flight and shifts or compensates passengers afterward. The data covers the period from October through December 2021 with rankings based on the number of passengers involuntarily denied boarding per 10,000 passengers boarded.

For ties, the airline with a higher number of passengers boarded ranked lower. A passenger is considered voluntarily denied boarding if they gave up their seat on an oversold flight in exchange for compensation. This data includes U.S. airlines with at least 0.5% of total domestic scheduled-service passenger revenues, operating aircraft with more than 30 seats. Airlines in this report also include their branded codeshare partners. This section furnishes data on the number of passengers who hold confirmed reservations and are denied boarding (“bumped”) from a flight because it is oversold. These figures include only passengers whose oversold flight departs without them; they do not include passengers affected by canceled, delayed, or diverted flights.

Before reading on, some things to note: While not ranked on this metric, SkyWest Airlines had the highest rate of voluntary denied boardings, and Southwest Airlines had the highest absolute number of involuntary denied boardings.

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A Delta airways jet taxis along a runway
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CarterAerial // Shutterstock

#17. Delta Air Lines

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 10,508 (3.49 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 0
- Total passengers boarded: 30,133,454

Delta Air Lines tied for second in the 2022 American Customer Service Index (ACSI) report, and for good reason—though it did have more than 10,000 voluntary passenger bumps, it didn’t have a single case of involuntary denied boarding. The airline prides itself on its transparency with customers when it comes to overbooking, as well as offering compensation for passengers who choose to give up their seats.

An Allegiant Airlines plane
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Eudaimonic Traveler // Shutterstock

#16. Allegiant Air

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 431 (1.16 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 0
- Total passengers boarded: 3,731,034

Allegiant Air is unique in that it flies in an “out and back” model, which means crews originate at a base and return there every night, so they’re able to sleep at home. The no-frills airline also strives to ease passengers’ minds by offering low fares. In the cases where a flight is overbooked, Allegiant not only will compensate a traveler willing to give up their seat, but one who gets bumped involuntarily, too.

Delta Connection Endeavor Air Bombardier CRJ-900 airplane at Atlanta airport
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Markus Mainka // Shutterstock

#15. Endeavor Air

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 2,728 (7.8 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 0
- Total passengers boarded: 3,498,186

Endeavor Air is a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, and like its parent company, the regional airline is known for treating its customers with care. Though its number per 10,000 people who voluntarily gave up their seats is a little higher, Endeavor still had no cases of denying a passenger boarding without their consent.

A Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330 plane
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Markus Mainka // Shutterstock

#14. Hawaiian Airlines

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 16 (0.08 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 0
- Total passengers boarded: 1,992,068

Flying to Hawaii should be a relaxing experience, and Hawaiian Airlines gives its passengers peace of mind by assuring them they will have a seat on their flight. On the rare occasion flights oversell, Hawaiian Airlines compensates guests who volunteer to relinquish their seats and helps them get on the next flight to their destination, even if it’s on a different carrier.

A United Airline Boeing 787 Dreamliner on final approach LAX International Airport
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Thiago B Trevisan // Shutterstock

#13. United Airlines

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 2,609 (1.2 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 16 (0.01 per 10K)
- Total passengers boarded: 21,830,661

United Airlines was part of the four-way tie for second place in ACSI’s report, and in April 2022 they became even more accommodating by allowing travelers to change or cancel a Basic Economy (the most restrictive) ticket without losing all their funds. They did have some instances of involuntarily denied boarding; however, both that number and the amount of voluntary bumping were low.

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A JetBlue airplane awaits boarding
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Leonard Zhukovsky // Shutterstock

#12. JetBlue Airways

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 864 (1.12 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 16 (0.02 per 10K)
- Total passengers boarded: 7,738,593

JetBlue Airways was #1 in customer service according to ACSI’s report, and despite having some involuntary bumping, its overall numbers are pretty low. The company bid $3.6 billion to buy Spirit Airlines (which is notorious for having poor customer service) in April 2022; however, Spirit rejected the offer.

An Alaska Airlines Boeing B737-700 N644AS at Seattle Tacoma International Airport
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Wangkun Jia // Shutterstock

#11. Alaska Airlines

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 2,386 (3.65 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 51 (0.08 per 10K)
- Total passengers boarded: 6,537,197

Alaska Airlines may have a higher number of overbooking incidents, but its bump policy is still beneficial to the traveler. Like many other airlines, those who volunteer their seat will receive compensation in addition to being rebooked on the next available flight to their final destination. Those who are involuntarily denied boarding also have options, and anyone willing to arrive at their destination later is heavily rewarded.

The check-in area for Spirit Airlines at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport
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EQRoy // Shutterstock

#10. Spirit Airlines

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 1,853 (2.27 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 94 (0.12 per 10K)
- Total passengers boarded: 8,160,830

Spirit Airlines does not have a great reputation for customer service, and in June 2020, the Department of Transportation fined the airline for violating federal bumping policy, but in the time that’s passed since its transgression, it seems Spirit is working on better pleasing passengers. Case in point: It’s in the middle of this list with a relatively low number of voluntary and involuntary bumping.

A SkyWest Bombardier CRJ-200 airplane flying in the sky
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Markus Mainka // Shutterstock

#9. SkyWest Airlines

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 9,595 (9.39 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 160 (0.16 per 10K)
- Total passengers boarded: 10,216,924

SkyWest has an alarmingly high number of voluntary bumps, but its involuntary number is relatively low. The regional airline is the largest in North America and is commissioned by Alaska Airlines (as Alaska SkyWest), American Airlines (as American Eagle), Delta Air Lines (as Delta Connection), and United Airlines (as United Express). As a result, it adapts the bump policy of the carrier contracting that specific flight.

Mesa Airlines Bombardier CRJ-900ER aircraft seen at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
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SOPA Images // Getty Images

#8. Mesa Airlines

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 727 (2.8 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 47 (0.18 per 10K)
- Total passengers boarded: 2,600,969

Mesa Airlines is a regional airline that operates flights for American Airlines (as American Eagle) and United Airlines (as United Express). Though its bump numbers are a little higher, Mesa strives to be as accommodating to passengers as possible and has laid out an extensive “Customer Bill of Rights” that explains its policies.

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A Republic Airways plane approaching the runway at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia
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DANIEL SLIM // Getty Images

#7. Republic Airways

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 2,303 (4.94 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 101 (0.22 per 10K)
- Total passengers boarded: 4,664,483

If you haven’t heard of Republic Airways, you probably don’t live on the East Coast. Republic is another regional airline that operates under American Eagle, United Express, and Delta Connection. It appears that East Coast travelers are particularly reliable—these flights tend to oversell more than in other regions.

A pilot at the airstairs of a Horizon Air Bombardier DHC-8 Dash 8-400 Q400
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aviation-images.com // Getty Images

#6. Horizon Air

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 558 (3.9 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 38 (0.27 per 10K)
- Total passengers boarded: 1,430,372

Horizon Air is Alaska’s regional airline, so why does it have more instances of bumps than its sister airline? The issue could be based on the sheer number of planes, and it’s a problem Alaska is hoping to solve by expanding its fleet in the coming years.

An American Airline jet parked on the tarmac
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GagliardiPhotography // Shutterstock

#5. American Airlines

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 8,787 (2.67 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 1,171 (0.36 per 10K)
- Total passengers boarded: 32,951,348

American Airlines is also part of that four-way tie for second place in the ACSI report, and though its bump numbers are a little on the high side, they’ve actually improved in recent years, and Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer Maya Leibman explained why.

“Over the last several years, we’ve really improved our technology around essentially pre-removing customers,” she said. “So either before they get to the airport, several days before they fly if we know that flight is at the risk of overselling, providing them an opportunity to bid or to take compensation, or even just move to a different flight that’s probably a little bit better than the flight that they were previously scheduled on.”

A Southwest Airlines flight taking off in Las Vegas
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Eliyahu Yosef Parypa // Shutterstock

#4. Southwest Airlines

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 9,649 (2.7 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 1,304 (0.36 per 10K)
- Total passengers boarded: 35,778,696

Southwest is the last airline in ASCI’s tie for remarkable customer service; however, the company that markets itself as being all about the customer by offering perks, such as free checked bags and no change fees, has found itself in a bind. Not only has it become one of the least reliable airlines in the country, but it also didn’t make good on its promise to stop overbooking flights.

Customer working with an airport's service desk to secure seating
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Balakate // Shutterstock

#3. Envoy Air

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 1,952 (5.35 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 165 (0.45 per 10K)
- Total passengers boarded: 3,647,596

Envoy Air is a wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines. It staffs, operates, and maintains American Eagle planes, but American is responsible for scheduling, marketing, and selling flights. As you can see, regional airlines are much more likely to bump than their mainline counterparts.

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A Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) jet
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Donaldson Collection // Getty Images

#2. PSA Airlines

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 1,616 (4.59 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 162 (0.46 per 10K)
- Total passengers boarded: 3,522,061

Like Envoy, PSA Airlines is a wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines. It follows the same structure, too. That makes three airlines under the American umbrella in the top 10 most likely to bump a passenger.

A Frontier Airlines Airbus jet departing from the Los Angeles International Airport
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Angel DiBilio // Shutterstock

#1. Frontier Airlines

- Passengers voluntarily denied boarding: 1,684 (2.94 per 10K)
- Involuntarily denied boarding: 887 (1.55 per 10K)
- Total passengers boarded: 5,734,906

Frontier Airlines is an ultra-low-cost carrier and with that comes drawbacks. In this instance, that’s a higher chance of getting involuntarily bumped on Frontier than any of the other 16 airlines on this list. In February 2022, Frontier announced its plan to merge with Spirit, and if the deal goes through, it’ll become a massive discount airline and the fifth largest U.S. carrier.

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