Which US Airlines Deny The Most Passengers Boarding?

This month, the US Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings released its latest Air Travel Consumer Report. The report provides statistics on various aspects of travel including flight delays, mishandled baggage, denied boardings and more. Today we’ll look at the results for denied boardings.

The big three U.S. airlines are Delta, United, and American. Photo: Wikimedia Commons


The 70-page report can be found on the Department of Transportation’s website. This issue covers various incidents for June 2019 but our focus in this article will be stats for denied boardings (DBs). The numbers cover the entire second quarter – April to June 2019.

A denied boarding is defined by the Department of Transportation (DOT) as: “the number of passengers bumped involuntarily and on the number who voluntarily gave up their seat on an oversold flight in exchange for compensation”.

There are four exceptions according to the DOT:

  1. The passenger was accommodated on another flight scheduled to arrive within one hour of the original flight;
  2. The passenger fails to comply with ticketing, check-in or reconfirmation procedures;
  3. An aircraft of smaller capacity is substituted; or
  4. The passenger is denied boarding due to safety-related weight restrictions on an aircraft with 60 or fewer seats.

The findings

JetBlue and Delta
Delta came in 2nd on the list while JetBlue was 4th. American Airlines was 15th. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

According to the report, here are the top 10 U.S. airlines ranked by “involuntary denied boardings per 10,000 passengers” in Q2. In brackets we’ve included the number of involuntary DBs:

  1. Endeavor Air (0)
  2. Delta Air Lines (0)
  3. Hawaiian Airlines (0)
  4. JetBlue Airways (7)
  5. Expressjet Airlines (1)
  6. United Airlines (28)
  7. Alaska Airlines (155)
  8. Spirit Air Lines (149)
  9. Skywest Airlines (213)
  10. Southwest Airlines (931)

The report makes special note that certain airlines were impacted by the grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, specifically saying:

“American Airlines and Southwest Airlines separately informed the Department that the grounding of the 737 MAX aircraft has negatively impacted their involuntary denied boarding statistics during the April-June 2019 reporting periods.”

southwest max
Southwest has an all Boeing 737 fleet with many MAX variants delivered and on order. They claim the grounding has affected their rankings. Photo: Southwest


Focusing on the major three, Delta, United and American – we see some surprising numbers.

Delta had quite the stellar quarter as they recorded zero involuntary denied boardings. This, we would imagine, could only be helped by the fact that they are the only major airline in the US that does not have the Boeing 737 MAX in their fleet.  However, the airline did record 32,820 voluntary DBs.

Ranking 6th, United Airlines recorded 28 involuntary DBs. Because of what happened back in 2017 with a passenger being violently dragged off, we would imagine that United Airlines has been working hard to improve its reputation when it comes to handling passengers. The airline actually outshines Delta in the category of voluntary DBs with only 11,394 in the report. That’s over 20,000 fewer denied boardings than Delta. Could this be attributed to its new high-tech ConnectionSaver program?

Finally, American Airlines comes in at 15th and an astounding 3,298 involuntary DBs… needless to say, that is 3,298 more than Delta recorded. There were also 41,562 voluntary denied boardings. In addition to its own 737 MAX problem, the airline has had an ongoing labor dispute, which forced it to cancel almost 4,000 flights in June.

Responding to our request for comment, American Airlines had the following to say:

“Our biggest challenge in the operation continues to be out of service aircraft. This reduces our ability to start the day right and to swap aircraft when needed as the day goes on. American Airlines team members are working diligently to take care of our customers during a challenging summer.”
American Airlines
American Airlines currently finds itself in a dispute with their maintenance personnel. Photo: American Airlines


What do you think of these results – are they surprising to you? Does this have any impact on your choice of airline? Let us know by leaving a comment!

We reached out to all big three US airlines for comment regarding their rankings. So far only American Airlines has responded. We also sought comment from some of the smaller airlines as well. We’ll update this article if we get any news!