Have You Been Bumped? Airline Overbookings Up 36%

by Chris Dong

Almost 130,000 passengers were bumped on U.S. flights in the first quarter of 2019 (January through end of March). That is a significant jump from the same period in 2018, when 94,577 people were denied boarding from flights.

One of the reasons for the increase in overbookings? The effects of the Boeing 737 MAX grounding. 

Related: Southwest’s New Normal: Life Without The 737 MAX

Southwest and American’s Huge Spike In Bumped Passengers

For Southwest specifically, the number of passengers that were bumped more than doubled, from 4,994 in the first quarter of 2018 to 11,590 in 2019.

American also reported a massive increase, from about 28,000 bumps in 2018 to nearly 47,000 in the first quarter of this year across American and its regional subsidiaries (Piedmont Airlines, Republic Airways and PSA).

Both Southwest and American rely on the 737 MAX significantly and have had to adjust schedules since the aircraft’s grounding. For instance, that means a a route that originally had eight flights a day (as an example), now only might have seven flights. Commence the overbooking issues.

There have been a host of other issues at play as well, especially for American, including adverse weather, maintenance issues, and operations meltdowns.

Overbooking Options For Passengers 

Overbooking has been the airline industry standard for years. It is a sales strategy since airlines know that people will miss a flight or change travel plans at the last minute. However, if you are bumped due to an overbooking, you are entitled to compensation.

Back in 2011, Delta was ahead of the curve when it unveiled overbooking prompts at airport check-in kiosks. Basically, if your flight was overbooked or at risk of being overbooked, you as a passenger had the option to volunteer to be “bumped” to a later flight in exchange for a (usually sizable) travel voucher.

Since this was before getting to the gate, this saved an incredible amount of time for gate agents who have to scramble to figure how to get an oversold plane out on time. These agents would already have a list of volunteers and people they could pull from the plane (not literally pull, unless you are United).

United also came out with a full self service solution for obtaining travel vouchers last year, and American finally joined the modern era by unveiling a similar feature within its mobile app last month. American is said to be considering offering it at check-in kiosks as well.

Source: DoT and BlueSky


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Jim F. June 29, 2019 - 1:17 pm

I’m glad to see this problem being covered. I’d love to see you expand on this topic by outlining how flyers can maximize the compensation they receive/are offered when their flight is oversold. What are the best strategies and what tools/rules should flyers use/know?

Chris Dong July 1, 2019 - 1:21 pm

Thanks Jim! I’ll take note of this and see if we can add it to our pipeline of posts.

Three basic tips: (1) Always speak to the gate agent when you arrive to the gate (even if you’ve volunteered at a kiosk / app) and (2) You can sometimes leverage being upgraded if you have to take a later flight that has a more premium seat available and (3) Try to ask a gate agent how many people are volunteering to gauge whether to hold out until the bidding for a travel voucher goes higher in value.

Christian June 30, 2019 - 10:55 pm

Hi Chris, I have a question for you. What is PMTTP’s policy on censoring unflattering comments? Sarah posted what I felt was a fluff piece and I said so in the comments, only to find my comment removed a short time later. I like the site greatly and have intended to use juicy Miles if I can’t do a booking myself, but this really guts the integrity of both the site and the service if somebody is simply not allowed to say anything that isn’t flattering.

Sarah July 1, 2019 - 3:08 am

Hi Christian, we have to approve all comments, they’re not posted automatically, and yours hasn’t been approved. However, thank you for your comments about my article, which was originally posted early last year (2018). I’m sorry you felt it was a “fluff piece” … would you care to elaborate your thoughts? The piece looked at the tourism industry in Turkey recovering after a very stagnant period, which is fairly important when people are considering travel to a destination that has had several devastating attacks.

Chris Dong July 1, 2019 - 1:17 pm

Hey Christian, thanks for your note. You are right, it looks like your comment was on Sarah’s post briefly and should not have been deleted. We appreciate feedback (positive or negative as long as its respectful) so we’re establishing a more set standard for comment approvals. Thanks for being a PM reader.

Dennis Miga July 3, 2019 - 7:32 am

I flew AA just yesterday (7/2) and noticed that AA has added a feature similar to Delta’s when I was printing my luggage tag. It’s certainly a welcome idea.


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