The US Department of Transportation Air Travel Consumer Report Shows that Airlines Are Improving On-Time Performance and Are Canceling Fewer Flights

Finally, some good news for travelers: US airlines are seeing fewer delays and less cancellations.

The US Department of Transportation reported last week that May 2022 data shows a 15 percent decline in complaints from the previous month for on-time flights and mishandled baggage, wheelchairs and scooters, and other complaints. However, these complaints are still 200 percent higher than before the pandemic began.

The DOT’s Air Travel Consumer Report contains a plethora of information, but some key takeaways are that only two percent of domestic flights were canceled in May (last year at this time, that number was 0.5 percent). In April 2022, 2.3 percent were canceled.

The three carriers least likely to cancel flights were Hawaiian Airlines (0.1 percent of flights were canceled in May 2022), Southwest Airlines (0.7 percent) and Frontier Airlines (1.4 percent). The three with the highest rates of cancellations were Delta (2.7 percent of flights were canceled in May), United (2.4 percent) and JetBlue (2.3 percent).

As far as on-time arrivals go – always the fear if one is making connections or is traveling with a razor’s edge of wiggle room – carriers in general were on time 77.2 percent of the time in May (up from 76.0 percent in April, and only slightly down from 77.9 percent in May 2019). The three most on-time airlines were Hawaiian Airlines (86 percent of the time), Delta (80.7 percent) and Alaska (80.2 percent), while the three least on-time carriers were Frontier (64.6 percent), Allegiant (66 percent) and Spirit (68.8).

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In May, the DOT received 2,413 complaints against US airlines, many concerning refunds. The next highest category of complaints was about, as we might expect, cancellations and delays. One delay that causes grueling angst is sitting on the tarmac, and in May there were 65 instances of domestic flights sitting there within sight of the airport for more than three hours, compared to 33 instances in April. Luckily, there were only two tarmac delays of more than four hours for international flights. Airlines are not permitted to let passengers sit on the tarmac for more than three hours (domestic) or four hours (international) without giving them the chance to deplane.

In terms of airline treatment of disabled passengers, in May there were 158 disability-related complaints, an improvement from the 162 received in April – but still higher than the pre-pandemic 76 complaints received in May 2019.

Now for some bad news. The report also covers bumping / oversales of flights (a quarterly figure which rose 0.08 since the first quarter of 2021), mishandled baggage claims (up 0.01 percent since April), mishandled wheelchair and scooter issues (up 0.07 percent since April), and complaints about race / religion / ethnicity discrimination (52 complaints in May, up from eight in April).

The bottom line: It still pays to be patient and expect chaos if you’re headed to the airport this summer.

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