- Business Insider/Skye Gould
United Airlines landed itself in hot water when it invoked its involuntary-deboarding policy to forcibly remove a passenger from a plane – but the airline isn’t the worst when it comes to this practice.
When a carrier overbooks a flight, it will first ask for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for compensation. But if there aren’t enough volunteers, the airline can bump passengers.
The backlash toward United may have brought involuntary deboarding to the center of public discussion, but of the major US airlines, Southwest deplaned the most passengers involuntarily in 2016, according to data from the Department of Transportation.
JetBlue also had a high rate of involuntary bumping, although it doesn’t overbook flights. The airline says on its website that flight cancellations and reaccommodations may create situations similar to overbooking – so overbooking isn’t the sole cause of involuntary bumps.
However, the United incident wasn’t triggered by overbooking. The airline had to reposition several employees for their next shift, so it asked for volunteers and then selected passengers to deplane when no one stepped up.
Overall, United falls somewhere in the middle when compared with other major airlines, with Delta boasting the lowest rate among them.
However, this data is for only one year. Quartz found that of the major airlines that flew at least 40 million passengers between 2008 and 2016, United bumped passengers involuntarily the most often.
Carriers must arrange for substitute transportation within one hour of the passengers’ scheduled arrival time or compensate them, according to the DOT’s Fly Rights.