Travel Thursday: How Likely Are You To Get Bumped From a Flight?

TGI Flyday! I’m in flight and on my way home for the first time in nearly ten days, and I’m so excited to get back home tonight. This is one of those nights where I don’t want to get home a second later than planned – I am just so excited to get back to my very own bed, especially after sleeping in a twin XL all weekend back at college ;)

Ever since the much-publicized United Express incident back in April, when David Dao was violently kicked off a flight, I’ve had friends about to fly mention in passing that they hope not to get bumped. I have the opposite response. Tonight aside, I am in fact usually hoping I will have an opportunity to get bumped! Voluntarily being denied boarding is a great opportunity to rack up a lot of airline vouchers (free travel!) for the minor inconvenience of being a few hours later to my destination.

In the case of United Express flight #3411, though, David Dao was certainly of a different mentality than me. He and the other passengers on board desperately wanted to get to their destination, and didn’t volunteer when the airline offered to compensate people for taking a later flight. Since seats are a fixed commodity, that meant someone would have to be left behind.


Neither this, nor the galley jumpseats, nor the toilet seat are actually options ;)

As the airline neared its scheduled departure time, they needed to come up with a solution fast – so they switched from the voluntary denied boarding (VDB) scenario to an involuntary denied boarding (IDB) scenario, where the computer selects which unlucky passengers will not be allowed to fly. With an IDB comes extra compensation, but that’s little consolation for someone who wants to get to his destination as desperately as Mr. Dao.

(I’m not even going to get into the actual violence that occurred to get Mr. Dao off the flight – there was a lot that went wrong in that situation and I don’t mean to minimize it. However, I mostly agreed with the opinions in this piece, unpopular though they may be.)

So what if, like Mr. Dao, you really need to fly and money won’t sway you? Well, you’ll be happy to learn that IDB situations are incredibly rare. In the first quarter of 2017, U.S. airlines had 9,566 IDBs. That sounds like a lot, until you put it in context: 208.4 million passengers flew in the first quarter of 2017, making the IDB rate 0.0062%, or one in 16,200. For comparison, your odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 3,000. And your rate of losing a bag you checked? 1 in 175 passengers. My advice? Take any time you’re worrying about getting bumped and use it to pack efficiently so you don’t need to check a bag – that will be far more fruitful in ensuring a smooth journey.

Since this incident, Southwest Airlines has announced that they will no longer be overbooking flights (not a huge change, since they previously never overbooked by more than two passengers), and the government has increased the amount of money that must be offered in a denied boarding scenario. But overbooking isn’t the only reason that people might be denied boarding (in fact, United Express #3411 was not overbooked), and there will still be situations where people will be denied boarding. While the general public feels like they’ve won some sort of victory, in my opinion, increasing the compensation is unlikely to reduce the already infinitesimal rate of denied boardings.


  1. I’m generally quite willing to be bumped, so long as I don’t HAVE to be at my destination for a reason (ie. a race). I’ll take all the discounted/free flights I can get! ha.
    I read that article when it was first written, and I, too, agreed with much of the article.
    Ange // Cowgirl Runs recently posted…Five Things Friday #2My Profile

    • Yes, my thoughts exactly! One time I was flying home from a race early on a Sunday morning (since that’s when the cheapest flights were) and I amassed over $1000 in vouchers by taking one bump after another… still making it home before I had to work on Monday :)

  2. Thanks for sharing the link to the pilot’s wife blog. I was not familiar with the blog.

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