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United passengers are involuntarily denied boarding more often than at any other major US airline

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The man who was forced out of his seat on an overbooked United flight yesterday may be the most famous, but he certainly wasn’t the first passenger to be turned away by the airline.

Of all the major airlines that flew 40 million passengers or more between 2008 and 2016, United had the highest rate of passengers who were involuntarily denied boarding, according to data from the US Department of Transportation.

(*Note: US Airways merged with American in 2013.)

A very small percentage of air travelers in the United States are involuntarily denied boarding their flights each year. Out of 600 million passengers who flew (or attempted to fly) United in those nine years, about 65,000 customers were denied their seats without agreeing to give them up. That’s a higher rate than any other airline, at 0.0107%, or 10.74 involuntary denials per 100,000 passengers. Delta had the lowest rate among large airlines, at 0.0047%, or 4.69 per 100,000.

In addition to being the frontrunner in denying entry to passengers who don’t want to give up their seats, United also leads in bumping passengers who go voluntarily. These are passengers who take vouchers or other forms of compensation for their seats, usually due to overbooking. In total, combining passengers who were denied voluntarily and involuntarily, United asked 712,000 (0.118%) of its passengers to give up their tickets over the nine years. That’s 117.76 denials per 100,000 passengers.

Overall, involuntary boarding denial has become less common over the past few decades in the US. From 1990 to 2015, the overall rate dropped from 0.016% to 0.008%.

Although United had the highest rate among large airlines, several smaller airlines bumped even a larger share of unwilling passengers between 2008 and 2016:

  • *American Eagle (0.0233% denied involuntarily)
  • Mesa Airlines (0.0208)
  • ExpressJet (0.0197)
  • Envoy Airlines (0.0196)
  • Atlantic Southeast (0.0172)

(*Note: American Eagle merged with Envoy in 2014.)

4/12/2017, 8:50 a.m. EDT: This article was updated with more charts and details. Corrections were made to the figures in the chart that shows rates of denials per 100,000 passengers.

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