Denied boardings surge with 737 Max grounding

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Photo Credit: Air Images/Shutterstock

American and Southwest are attributing a recent surge in denied boardings to the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max, according to the DOT's August Air Travel Consumer Report. 

During the second quarter, American and American Eagle-branded flights had 58,065 voluntary denied boardings, up from 25,261 a year earlier. The American network also had 5,227 involuntary bumpings from April through June, up from 389 last year. 

At Southwest, voluntary denied boardings rose to 12,368 in the second quarter compared with 6,039 a year earlier. Southwest also bumped 931 passengers involuntarily, up from 376 during the second quarter of 2018. 

"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 period," the Air Travel Consumer Reports notes.

When the Max was grounded on March 13, Southwest was operating 34 Max planes and American was operating 24. Denied boardings occur when a passenger holding a confirmed reservation is bumped from a flight because the airline has sold more tickets than there are seats. Denials are considered voluntary if passengers agree to give up their seats, typically in exchange for cash compensation or a voucher. 

In an email, American spokesman Ross Feinstein said that the company's biggest operational challenge 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," he said.

In addition to the Max grounding, American's operations have been dogged this spring and summer by a dispute between management and its mechanics union as labor contract talks stalled. American has accused the Transport Union of America of intentionally withholding more aircraft than usual on a daily basis for unscheduled maintenance. Last week, a federal judge issued a permanent injunction against the union, ordering it to halt the slowdown.

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