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.
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.
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