The Truth Behind Migrants Flying Out of Southern Border Airports: What You Need to Know

Is American Airlines bumping paying passengers so that they can fly migrants out of southern border airports? That’s the claim being made across some sectors of the media. It takes one element of truth – that the number of migrants on planes out of a handful of airports has become substantial – and mixed it with an odd anecdote about a man who may have checked in late for his American Airlines flight and lost his seat.

Southern Border Airports Are Seeing An Unprecedented Number Of Migrants

One in five passengers flying out of airports at the southern border appear to be migrants based on data on the number of departing passengers which substantially outnumber those who return.

We’re seeing roughly 50,000 migrants a month being flown out of Tucson, El Paso, and McAllen, Texas alone, so while buses are getting most of the national media there’s at least as much flight volume.

On the one hand, governors like Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida are sending busloads of migrants to northern states and getting applauded by their base for it. On the other hand, when migrants are sent to northern states by plane it’s triggering for the same people.

Reports Of Americans Being Bumped For Migrants On American Airlines?

There’s a story circulating within the MAGA Right that airline passengers are being bumped in favor of migrants, and that this is indicative of how in ‘Biden’s America’ “illegal immigrants > American citizens.”

Apparently the reason passengers with confirmed reservations are advised to check in online up to a day in advance is to ensure they retain priority over walk up migrants at the airport? I’ve been sent this story by more than one of you.

“Airline passengers are advised to check in with your Airlines mobile app as soon as possible — up to 24 hours in advance — and arrive at the airport with at least two hours before your plane takes off. That’s because asylum seekers illegally released by the Department of Homeland Security are waiting on standby for seats, and if you aren’t at the boarding gate when agents start to fill empty seats, you could be bumped,” a reporter warned.

She goes on to tell the story of one patron who “had trouble checking in on the American Airlines app” but still “arrived at the airport an hour before his flight” only to find out “had been bumped from the flight.”

“Migrants” Is Not Why Confirmed Passengers Lose Their Seats

This is 100% misleading.

  • Airlines are selling walk up tickets to non-profits who are paying for flights.
  • Passengers who no show flights have their seats given away to someone on standby for a flight.
  • The story is about an American Airlines flight. If you do not check in 27 minutes before scheduled departure (42 minutes with checked bags) you lose your seat. If you are not at the gate 15 minutes to departure you can lose your seat.
  • Those are standard airline rules and they have not changed because of migrants.

U.S. airlines have to follow – and are following – their contract of carriage. If you think they aren’t when you fly, and you aren’t getting satisfaction from the airline’s customer service department, file a DOT consumer complaint.

But it’s absolutely not the case that paid, confirmed passengers who meet standard check-in times and appear at the gate are being turned away so that U.S. airlines can transport migrants.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. There was a criminal caught on camera today at the border.
    He was a rapist with 91 felony counts.

  2. “Airlines are selling tickets to Nonprofits”. These nonprofits are collecting a bundle in this deal. I’m sure the cartels profit is larger but these NGOs are doing quite well too.

  3. Good one AL. But don’t expect logic or attention to facts from the True Believers. That can disturb their view of Knowing The Truth and being One Of The Elect.

  4. And where are these nonprofits getting their money? Likely the taxpayer thru government grants to the NGO’s to assist these folks.

  5. Thanks, Gary. Your last sentence: “But it’s absolutely not the case that paid, confirmed passengers who meet standard check-in times and appear at the gate are being turned away so that U.S. airlines can transport migrants”. It seems curious, because above that you relayed the story from NBC El Paso who stated the following: She goes on to tell the story of one patron who “had trouble checking in on the American Airlines app” but still “arrived at the airport an hour before his flight” only to find out “had been bumped from the flight”. The contradiction is apparent: If the passenger whom that reporter had quoted was telling the truth, then your final statement is in error.

  6. Also the reason that I’ve CEASED all charitable giving (except animals). I might as well be handing it directly to the criminals themselves. I’m sure they prefer cash anyhow.

  7. Hysteria whipped up by racist rabid MAGA types. I fear for the soul of America.
    Will the USA disappear into a cosmic black hole in November?
    The phrase “Turkeys voting for Thanksgiving” springs to mind.

  8. @CHRIS…the disease research groups, food banks and organizations helping the most desperate appreciate your perspective. You seem like a wonderful, generous and philanthropic person.

  9. I was recently bumped from my AA flight out of AUS when I arrived 40 minutes before flight time. I was told that I could just go to the gate with my bag but she didn’t think they would let me on the flight and ENCOURAGED me to allow her to book me another flight. I had checked in the night before and am a lifelong member of of the rewards program too 🙂

  10. I’d like to know how much additional revenue airlines are getting from all of this.
    and, yes, it is the federal government that is funding it. except when they get to big sanctuary cities when they are on their own.
    The irony is that it is the federal government and the Red State southern Dems that are dumping on northern sanctuary cities.

  11. For years, I’ve had to organize all my documents: passport, driver’s license, REAL ID, Vax certificates, eating certificates, etc. with marching names, unexpired dates or spon to expire dates, etc. Then there is the cbersome internet check-in that doesn’t always allow you to check in without seeing a check-in counter in person. Then there’s the correct payment by bank card or cash. Yhen there iscTSA and you need doctors notes for medical implants. Documents for expensive gold or jewelry or lots of cash, etc. And CLEAR still demands a driver’s license even if you already are in the system for a fee. And the non-refundable fee for a failed precheck application with its tricky questions.

    No. The Golden Age of Flying is yours if and only if you are a taxpayer subsidized NGO client with no personal documents. from a non-US starting point.

  12. glenn t – go house them yourself. We didnt ask to foot the bill for their illegal ways

  13. Glad to see most people are sensibly bothered by what’s going on. I find it concerning that NGOs and people facilitating all of this refuse to talk to the press for the most part. It’s all disturbing to me.

  14. These “migrants” have entered the United States illegally. They are demanding money, food and housing paid by tax paying citizens. I have witnessed this travesty personally at the Tucson airport 3 times since November 2023.

    I trust you are housing and feeding an appropriate number of these invaders.

    This is no different than a criminal breaking into your house and demanding you support the criminal.

  15. While much of this is true there is a few additional factors.

    Illegal aliens that cross into the USA sometimes have family or organized groups (crime, social, etc.) that source airplane or bus tickets for them so they can travel to larger cities. I doubt many people crossing the border do it hoping to settle in El Paso or McAllen, etc.

    I also see northern cities like Chicago and New York complain about the invasion of illegal immigrants and how much of a problem it is but those cities are only getting a fraction of the numbers crossing the border. The issue is much worse in Texas and Arizona.

  16. WOW, I bet most of you don’t even live in boarder states and how many of your parents, grand parents or great grand parents are imigrents. . .ask them how they were treated. Remember that 99.9% of theses people are just looking for a better life and before Biden or Trump (he got lucky because of Covid and where’s the wall Mexico was going to pay for BTW) or even Clinto and Reagen the US has had NO policies. I am not going to play politics because I am a fiscally conservative indepedent and my family DID come over on the Mayflower and another part via Ellis Island at the turn of the last century, so I CAN say something. Lose the politics and the fake news your all spread and let Congress at least pass the bill the Trump and his minons killed. It’s what MAGA always asks for “bi-partison cooperation” or is that fake too.

    Time to wake up and look in the miror and think what your humanity for once. Oh and actaully read the Consitituion and the Bible.

  17. @TexasTJ-
    If you read your link: The funding may be used for shelter (including housekeeping), food (including cookware and containers), transportation (including to communities away from the border), acute medical care (such as health screenings and over-the-counter medicines), administrative expenses (such as IT and language services), and renovations or repairs to existing facilities.

    So a portion of this money is spent on transportation.

    For James: Under US law, they are not considered illegal invaders. This was also true under the previous administration.

    And passengers are denied boarding for any oversold flight.

  18. @sunviking82. First learn how to proofread and spell check.

    Secondly, legal immigration has laws and procedures. Illegal invasion is another story. Legal immigrants have followed the law, learned about America should attempt to assimilate into our great country. Jumping the line and demanding free stuff is totally different.

    Third, you are correct, the laws were different in past times. I mean slavery was legal for thousands of years, but America put an end to that. Are you saying that should be legal now?

    Also, my family immigrated from Italy and Germany – legally.

  19. The article is misleading. Sure, perhaps standby rules remain the same, even for migrants. But should legal American residents/citizens EVER be bumped off a plane for someone who illegally crossed the border and shouldn’t even be in this country? And what is the “MAGA Right”” except for a lame Biden talking point?

  20. Some of you are really nuts. Especially you, James. I hope when your elderly mother needs care and you can’t find anyone to help you because of the labor shortage, all of our new, eager-to-work arrivals flip you the bird.l

  21. @pam – you are 100% wrong. Apply legally, obtain a work visa and then get a job. This is how someone does it.

    Illegal invaders will be exploited by criminals and drug traffickers. These illegal invaders suppress wages, increase taxes or the deficit and block citizens from getting jobs.

    Legal immigration – good.

    Illegal invaders – bad.

    Very Simple.

  22. @pam – you are 100% wrong. Apply legally, obtain a work visa and then get a job. This is how someone does it.

    Illegal invaders will be exploited by criminals and drug traffickers. These illegal invaders suppress wages, increase taxes or the deficit and block citizens from getting jobs.

    Very Simple.

  23. It is “triggering” for the MAGA RIGHT, Gary, because it is your and my tax dollars that are going to waste on these people who are not citizens of this country and who will mostly fail (95% of their time) in their “asylum application.”

    That money could be better spent on people in need at home who are US Citizens or not spent at all and used to pay the ever expanding US debt.

  24. @Hadley so why not fund the additional asylum judges to help work through the backlog in asylum cases and get the process fixed? Why not pass the most conservative border protection legislation in our lifetimes?

    If people are abusing the asylum system, and they are, let’s fix the system. Nobody in federal government is handing illegal immigrants a free trip to Chicago and pocket money or allowances. These are for legal asylum seekers only, and they only turn illegal when their case is heard and denied. So again, fund more judges. It’s the true conservative path out of this and it happens to be one favored by the current administration because it’s simple common sense.

  25. Far more airports than the ones listed are in the middle of this travesty. Many have under the radar and unidentified on site “processing centers” run by the tax dodging “charities” who handle these illegals. In order for them to reach the gates the TSA has to be part of the scam making some special “exceptions” to the stringent seeing protocols to which we citizens are subjected. Ah yes, let’s not forget the airlines are more than accommodating since they are ranking in bundles of cash for transporting these invaders.

  26. This has been going on for quite some time. The illegals are easy to spot: mostly military aged men or grouped as “families”, wearing gift shop or bargain bin clothing, super clean shoes, plastic carry on bags or black duffle bags and they all have a cell phone.

    These NGO/non profit orgs are why I’ve stopped donating to anything except animal shelters as others have said they’re doing the same.

  27. @ Sunviking82. When there is no enforcement of laws then it’s not a big leap to anarchy.
    Unfortunately Washington DC and many state politicians only think and act in terms of election cycles. Short term goals have long term effects.

  28. Come on, Gary.
    NGO’s who are supported by your taxpayer funds are paying for citizens of other countries to travel across all 50 states without positive identification, in a special TSA line designed specifically for people without documentation and for purposes that are unknown to us.
    Either your head is in the sand or its up your arse.

  29. This is what legal immigration looks like today: “Behind those immigrants who applied for green cards in 2018 stand nearly five million people waiting in the applicant backlog. Without significant reforms, wait times will become impossibly long for these immigrants. Altogether, about 675,000 would‐​be legal immigrants — 14 percent of those waiting in 2018 — would die without seeing a green card if they refused to give up and stayed in the line indefinitely. It will take decades and — in some categories — a half century or more to process everyone else waiting now.”( Those immigrant parents/grandparents from the turn of the century faced nothing like this.
    Most Western countries, Russia, China and Japan are in a financial dead spiral due to lack of births (so that retirees currently or very soon will surpass working people). The USA so far has managed to avoid this crunch through immigration (both legal and illegal). (
    We have been kicking the can of immigration reform for decades( Both parties share responsibility for this mess.
    So @Pam is correct: no American citizen wishes to harvest your produce , wash your dishes at restaurants or wipe your derriere at a nursing home.

  30. Breaking the law and failing to enforce it has nothing to do with “race” nor does the action that should be taken (but is not) when it is willfully and wantonly disobeyed. David needs to save the “race card” go-to for some other issue!!!

  31. Using the race card means you have lost the argument.

    Legal immigration – Thumbs up.

    Illegal breaking in – Prison, deportation and lifetime ban.

  32. @Robert. This does not justify the illegal invasion of America. There is a guest worker program that can handle produce picking and other jobs requiring seasonal labor.

    Also those that enter illegally are exploited. They drive down wages and increase cost of social services all while not contributing to these programs because they are here illegally.

    Yes, Congress should fix some of the issues, but America is not going to be the home of those just wanting to relocate, nor should it justify this invasion. Close the border, stop the drugs and apply to live in other countries. Maybe you and others should look at the countries they are coming from and figure out why they are such a cesspool.

    Venezuela was a great country 40 years ago, but Communism killed it. Luckily Argentina is trying to fix their country.

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