'Honey, I'll Be Late — I've Been Bumped'

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Delta Airlines may have to stop calling them "reservations." According to new Transportation Department statistics, the Atlanta-based airline leads the industry in passenger "bumping," having denied boarding to 8,144 passengers in the first three months of this year — nearly as many as the other nine major carriers combined. As any traveler can tell you, getting bumped is a common enough occurrence — it happens when airlines sell more tickets than seats on the premise that some folks won’t show up — and airlines are required to compensate the bumpee with upgrades or cash equivalents. But if you absolutely, positively have to be there on time, watching the plane doors shut in your face can be uniquely frustrating — the sort of thing that gives the big carriers a bad name.

Those carriers say it’s simple economics. When an average of 10 percent to 15 percent of ticket holders don’t show up, overbooking allows them to keep flights full (and airfares down). But Delta acknowledged Wednesday that it may be squeezing that penny a little too hard — or simply miscalculating the no-show rate. New software that was supposed to fix that has apparently been delayed. But Delta also may have been right in suggesting that a few thousand bumpings do not a hated airline make. When it came to overall passenger complaints, Delta had the second-best record among major carriers, with 1.82 complaints per 100,000 passengers. The loser in that category? American, with 3.70 complaints per 100,000. Looks like taking a later flight — and getting compensated for it — still beats showing up for your best friend’s wedding without your tux.