Skip to content

What has changed since Dr. Dao was dragged off a United Airlines flight?

April 09, 2022
7 min read
A United Boeing 777-200ER
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

It’s been five years since that now infamous 2017 ‘Bumpgate’ event when Dr. David Dao was involuntarily bumped and dragged off of United Airlines Flight 3411 from Chicago O’Hare Airport (ORD) to what is now Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF) in Kentucky.

The incident took place when United Airlines needed seats on a fully booked plane for four crew members who needed to get to Louisville for flights the next day. When no passenger volunteered to take an offer of $400, and then $800, to give up their seat and take a later flight, the airline randomly picked the names of four passengers and told them to deplane.

Three did. Dao did not. And the video of a bloodied Dao being forcibly removed from the plane by officers from Chicago’s Department of Aviation went viral.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

After an initial letter to United Airlines employees from then CEO Oscar Munoz saying that Dao had been “disruptive” and “belligerent,” Munoz issued an apology assuring the public that “we take full responsibility, and we will work to make it right.”

A lawsuit, settled by United with Dao for a confidential amount that some pegged at around $140 million, followed. So did a reevaluation of airline bumping policies and U.S. Department of Transportation’s regulations regarding voluntary and involuntary boarding situations.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!

What’s changed since the Incident?

A lot has changed. In the United States, involuntary denied boarding incidents have declined significantly across the board since 2017.

In a chart put together by TPG number crunching wizards using DOT data for 2021 compared to 2017, the rate of involuntary denied boardings per 10,000 passengers dropped by more than 54%. Of course, there were fewer passengers flying in 2021 so that may have something to do with the big drop.

A quick look at United Airlines stats on involuntary boardings shows that the airline has seemingly learned its lesson. The rate of involuntary denied boardings dropped by more the 96% between 2017 and 2021.

YearTotal Denied Boardings on United Airlines% InvoluntaryInvoluntary Denied Boardings per 10,000 passengers
201749,1684.29%0.23
20212,6220.61%0.01

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation

Airlines have not stopped overbooking flights. But the key strategy airlines now use to avoid having to deny boarding anyone involuntarily is by being more proactive – and generous – in offering incentives to passengers who voluntarily give up their seats on overbooked flights.

During the busy Thanksgiving travel season right before the pandemic, for example, we learned that United was offering passengers up to $5,000 to give up seats on some flights out of New York City. And today, it is common to have passengers be offered $1,000 or more for volunteering to give up their seats on overbooked flights. In many cases, airlines proactively ask customers via email if they are willing to give up their seats in exchange for compensation.

What are the rules now?

“The business practice of bumping is not illegal,” the DOT says on its website. “Airlines oversell their scheduled flights to a certain extent in order to compensate for ‘no-shows.’ Most of the time, airlines correctly predict the ‘no shows’ and everything goes smoothly. But sometimes, passengers are bumped as a result of oversales practices.”

Today, as travel approaches pre-pandemic levels and many flights are once again overbooked during the busiest travel periods, it is important to know your rights when it comes to voluntary and involuntary denied boardings.

Or at least know where to find the rules in case you find yourself in a situation where you need to remind your airline gate agent of the proper amount of compensation due.

On its site, which we suggest you bookmark on your phone, the US Department of Transportation (US DOT) outlines the current rules on bumping, overselling and compensation, updated as of April 15, 2021.

For those interested in voluntarily giving up a booked seat in exchange for an airline offer, the DOT notes that “[T]here is no limit to the amount of money or vouchers that the airline may offer, and passengers are free to negotiate with the airline.”

Negotiation can be the key word here. DOT suggests some questions and conditions to consider before volunteering to give up your seat, including:

  • When is the next flight on which the airline can confirm your seat?
  • How long is the ticket or voucher good for and can it be used during holiday periods?
  • Can your ticket or voucher be used for international flights?

For those who end up having to involuntarily giving up their seats, the rules are stricter. In the case of an involuntary bump, the DOT requires the airline to give a passenger a written statement describing their rights and how their carrier determines who gets bumped.

The DOT rules list situations in which involuntarily bumped passengers are not eligible for compensation. Examples include when a smaller plane is substituted for a larger one; when there are weight and balance issues; and on planes holding fewer than thirty passengers.

You are entitled to compensation if you are involuntarily bumped if:

  • you’ve checked-in on time for your flight
  • you’ve arrived at the gate on time
  • the airline cannot get you to your destination within one hour of your original flight’s scheduled arrival time

The DOT has set minimum compensation amounts but, of course, airlines are free to give you more.

The amount of minimum compensation the DOT requires airlines to give involuntarily bumped passengers on domestic flights is now:

0 to 1 hour arrival delay: No Compensation

1-to-2-hour arrival delay: 200% of one-way fare. However, the DOT allows airlines to cap compensation at $775 if 200% of the one-way fare is higher than $775.

Over 2 hours arrival delay: 400% of one-way fare. Although the DOT allow airlines to cap compensation to $1,550 if 400% of the one-way fare is higher than $1,550.

For arrival delays on international flights, the compensation for involuntary denied boardings is:

0 to 1 hour arrival delay: No Compensation

1-to-4-hour arrival delay: 200% of one-way fare. However, the DOT allows airlines to cap compensation at $775 if 200% of the one-way fare is higher than $775.

Over 4 hours arrival delay: 400% of one-way fare. Although the DOT allow airlines to cap compensation to $1,550 if 400% of the one-way fare is higher than $1,550.

There are also some instances when passengers may be involuntarily denied boarding – or even removed from a flight – and are not required to receive any compensation from the airline.

Those reasons include being intoxicated or under the influence of illegal drugs; attempting to interfere with the duties of a crew member; disrupting flight operations; or having an offensive body odor that is not caused by a disability of illness.

As we’ve learned from the uptick in unruly passengers incidents, some passengers denied boarding end up having to pay fines or go to jail.

Featured image by You can sometimes find low-cost tickets to Hawaii with United MileagePlus (Photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases