The number of passengers bumped from flights in the United States has dropped to historic lows, the federal government announced Tuesday.
The report, issued monthly by the U.S. Department of Transportation, is the first to include data for the second quarter of this year -- the timeframe when a passenger on a United Airlines flight was injured as he was dragged from his seat after he refused to voluntarily leave the plane to make room for a United employee.
The incident drew attention to the common airline practice of “overbooking” flights and led United and two other major carriers to change their policies on how passengers are involuntarily denied boarding on flights.
Of the 12 major U.S. air carriers that report statistics on the bumping of passengers, the DOT said the numbers dropped for the first half of this year from the same time in 2016, with a rate of .52 per 10,000 passengers bumped. The rate goes even lower for this year’s second quarter: .44 per 10,000 passengers.
Both marked the lowest rates seen since 1995.
Following the early April incident at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, in which video of the passenger being roughly removed from the aircraft went viral, there was an outcry from consumer advocates who charged that United and O’Hare were acting improperly. It also prompted a lawsuit from the passenger in question, who suffered a concussion and broken nose, along with the loss of two of his front teeth, The Washington Post reported.
United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized soon after on “Good Morning America.”
“This will never happen again,” he told the show’s hosts.
In May, Munoz and executives for Alaska, Southwest and American airlines testified before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as lawmakers called for swift changes to overbooking and airline customer-service issues.
“This committee and the Congress do not want half-measures or temporary fixes,” committee chair Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said in his opening remarks. “This issue is not going away. We are not going away, we will hold you accountable and we expect real results.”
Since the incident, United announced it was changing its bumping policy, increasing the maximum amount travelers may be paid for volunteering to be bumped from a flight to $10,000. Delta Air Lines matched that amount. American Airlines, meanwhile, issued a pledge that once a passenger boards a plane, that person will not be removed to free up a seat for someone else.
“We all know that when airlines overbook, they offer passengers incentives to volunteer to give up their seats; United should never have escalated the situation and should have offered sufficient incentives to avoid this terrible outcome,” National Consumers League executive director Sally Greenberg said in an April news release. “The fact that United can get away with this underscores just how few rights consumers have the minute they step into an airport. If the Department of Transportation won’t hold the airlines to account for these practices, then Congress needs to step in and fix the problem.”
The DOT since has launched a website where travelers can report issues including tarmac and flight delays, and discrimination. The “Got Flights? Know Your Rights” page also includes information on what customers are entitled to when buying a plane ticket.
Flight delays, cancellations and discrimination
The report issued Tuesday also contained detailed statistics for flight cancellations and delays, on-time performance and other common passenger issues, such as:
- On-time performance: The 12 reporting U.S. carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 76.2 percent in June 2017, down from 78 percent in June 2016 and 79.1 percent in May.
- Cancellations: About 1 percent of scheduled domestic flights were canceled in June 2017, up from 0.8 percent in May.
- Tarmac delays: In June, airlines reported six tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights, compared to 27 delays in May. In June, airlines also reported two tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights compared to no such tarmac delays in May.
- Chronically delayed flights: At the end of June, there were three regularly scheduled flights that were chronically delayed — more than 30 minutes late more than 50 percent of the time — for four consecutive months. There were an additional 12 regularly scheduled flights that were chronically delayed for three consecutive months and an additional 83 regularly scheduled flights that were chronically delayed for two consecutive months.
- Causes of flight delays: In June, 23.76 percent of flights were delayed: about 7 percent by aviation system issues; nearly 9 percent by late-arriving aircraft; just under 6 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems; less than 1 percent by extreme weather; and .04 percent for security reasons. In addition, 1.09 percent of flights were canceled and 0.26 percent were diverted. According to the DOT, weather plays a role both in extreme-weather delays and aviation-system delays.
- Incidents involving animals: In June, there were three incidents involving the death, injury or loss of an animal while traveling by air, down from the six reports filed in June of last year, but up from the one report filed in May. June’s incidents involved the death of one animal and injuries to two other animals.
- Complaints about airline service: DOT received 1,605 complaints about airline service from consumers in June, up almost 8 percent from the total of 1,490 filed in the same month last year, but down nearly 10 percent from the 1,779 received in May. From January to June, the DOT received 9,026 consumer complaints, up almost 8 percent from the total of 8,375 received during the first six months of 2016.
- Complaints about treatment of disabled passengers: The DOT received 77 disability-related complaints in June, down from both the 82 complaints received in June 2016 and the 78 received in May.
- Complaints about discrimination: In June, the DOT received three complaints alleging discrimination — all regarding race. This is a drop from six discrimination complaints in June of last year and nine complaints in May. For the first six months of this year, the DOT received 44 discrimination complaints: 29 complaints regarding race, two complaints regarding ancestry/ethnicity, four complaints regarding national origin, two complaints regarding color, two complaints regarding religion, four complaints regarding sex and one complaint categorized as “other.”