The odds have changed since Dr. David Dao.
Airlines are now bumping far fewer passengers from oversold flights than in previous years, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation. U.S. airlines denied boarding to 2,745 passengers between July and September, which accounts for about one in every 67,000 passengers. That's the lowest rate since the department began tracking the practice in 1995, the Associated Press reported.
It’s no coincidence that the decline has been notable since April, when Dr. David Dao was infamously forced to disembark from a United Express flight. The video of the violent removal went viral, and rallied consumers to demand better treatment from airlines, even if they'd had never been treated in such a severe manner.
Since the incident, major airlines — not just United — have changed their policies for overbooking. They're increased the compensation that agents can offer passengers to give up their seat, and introduced software solutions, like early bidding, to manage overbooked flights before the travelers are even at the airport.
Spirit Airlines was the most likely airline to bump a passenger in the latest quarter, according to the Transportation Department.
If you want to decrease your chances of getting bumped on your next flight, consider booking on Delta, Virgin America, JetBlue, or even United (which has turned things around under intense public pressure). All four of these airlines bumped no more than one in every 250,000 passengers, according to the report.
Although airlines increased possible payments to passengers who are denied boarding, less passengers are now asked to stay behind for the next flight. From July to September, 74,358 passengers voluntarily gave up seats and were paid to do so with cash or a travel voucher, compared to 114,119 people a year earlier, according to the Transportation Department.
While the report shows airlines are improving, not everyone is satisfied. On Thursday, Democrat Rep. Rick Nolan introduced an airline passenger “bill of rights,” which would ensure the contract between airlines and passengers is more transparent, Travelmole reported. The bill of rights would make it explicitly clear what happens to passengers if they are bumped, lose baggage, or have their flight delayed or canceled.
“As we saw with the horrific United Airlines incident where a passenger was forcibly removed after he was seated on an aircraft, there is an urgent need for airlines to be transparent and inform consumers of their rights,” Nolan said in a statement.
While the future of that legislation is unknown, it's clear airlines are already motivated not to repeat another incident like in April.