More Fliers Forced to Give Up Seats

The number of people involuntarily bumped off flights bounced up more than 40 percent to 16,323 in the second quarter, compared with the same period in 2005, according to government data cited by the Wall Street Journal. It was the highest number in any second quarter since 2000—a particularly bad year for getting bumped, when business was booming and fares were high. Also, the number of passengers enticed to voluntarily give up seats on overbooked flights rose more than 10 percent in the second quarter over last year. Under financial pressure from high oil prices, airlines have trimmed flight schedules this year and jammed more people onto remaining trips. That's led to more-crowded flights—some of them overcrowded. Regional airlines Comair, Mesa, SkyWest and Atlantic Southeast overbooked the most in the second quarter, according to the Department of Transportation. Among big carriers, Northwest Airlines had the highest rate of people with tickets who were denied boarding, voluntarily and involuntarily combined. The lowest was JetBlue Airways. The increase raises several questions about the long-held airline practice of selling more tickets for a flight than there are seats on the plane. For one: The DOT requires that airlines compensate passengers for bumping them off flights, but the maximum amount of $400 was set in 1978 and hasn't changed. Had the maximum amount been adjusted for inflation, it would be more than $1,200 today. And some argue that since the last tickets sold are usually the most expensive, airlines have too much incentive to sell $1,000 tickets when no seats are available if the penalty is only $400 to bump a cheaper-fare passenger.

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