Air Travel Consumer Report: Consumer Complaints Against Airlines Rise More Than 300 Percent Above Pre-Pandemic Levels

WASHINGTON – The US Department of Transportation today released its Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR) on airline operational data compiled for the month of April 2022 for on-time performance, consumer complaints received, mishandled baggage, and mishandled wheelchairs and scooters. The ATCR is designed to assist consumers with information on the quality of services provided by airlines. DOT remains committed to ensuring airline passengers are protected fairly and is concerned about recent cancellations and flight disruptions. It uses the data from the ATCR, consumer complaints, and other information it secures from the airlines to inform its enforcement activities and the adequacy of existing rules.

Flight Operations

In April, the COVID-19 pandemic continued to result in significant changes to airline schedules and operations. The 566,893 flights operated in April 2022 were 86.9% of the 652,533 flights operated in pre-pandemic April 2019. Operated flights in April 2022 were up 20.3% year-over-year from the 471,375 flights operated in April 2021 and down 2.6% month- over-month from the 581,434 flights operated in March 2022.

In April 2022, the 10 marketing network carriers reported 580,290 scheduled domestic flights, 13,397 (2.3%) of which were canceled. In April 2021, the same airlines reported 473,936 scheduled domestic flights, 2,561 (0.5%) of which were canceled. In March 2022, airlines scheduled 590,542 domestic flights, of which 9,108 (1.5%) were canceled. In April 2019, airlines scheduled 668,259 domestic flights, of which 15,726 (2.4%) were canceled.

April 2022 On-Time Arrival

In April 2022, reporting marketing carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 76.0%, down from 77.2% in March 2022 and 79.8% in pre-pandemic April 2019. The year-to-date on-time arrival rate for 2022 is 76.3 %.

Highest Marketing Carrier On-Time Arrival Rates April 2022 (ATCR Table 1)

  1. Delta Air Lines Network – 81.9%
  2. United Airlines Network – 80.9%
  3. Hawaiian Airlines – 80.8%

Lowest Marketing Carrier On-Time Arrival Rates April 2022 (ATCR Table 1)

  1. JetBlue Airways – 53.3%
  2. Frontier Airlines – 58.4%
  3. Spirit Airlines – 58.5%

April 2022 Flight Cancellations

In April 2022, reporting marketing carriers canceled 2.3% of their scheduled domestic flights, higher than the rate of 1.5% in March 2022, and lower than the rate of 2.4% in pre-pandemic April 2019.

Lowest Marketing Carrier Rates of Canceled Flights April 2022 (ATCR Table 6)

  1. Delta Air Lines Network – 1.1%
  2. Hawaiian Airlines – 1.4%
  3. American Airlines Network – 1.6%

Highest Marketing Carrier Rates of Canceled Flights April 2022 (ATCR Table 6)

  1. Spirit Airlines – 10.3%
  2. JetBlue Airways – 9.0%
  3. Alaska Airlines Network – 3.8%

Complaints About Airline Service

In April 2022, DOT received 5,079 complaints about airline service from consumers, up 14.8% from the 4,423 complaints received in March 2022 and up 321.5% from the 1,205 complaints received in pre-pandemic April 2019.

Of the 5,079 complaints received in April 2022, 3,173 (62.5%) were against US carriers, 1,409 (27.7%) were against foreign air carriers, and 497 (9.8%) were against travel companies.

Also, of the 5,079 complaints received in April 2022, 1,641 (32.3%) concerned refunds. The Department’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection continues to communicate with airlines and travel companies that receive refund complaints to ensure compliance with the refund requirements. Many passengers who had initially been denied refunds have received the required refunds. The Department has taken and will take enforcement action against noncompliant airlines and ticket agents as necessary.

Flight problems was the second highest category of the complaints received in April 2022. Of the 5,079 complaints received, 1,549 (30.5%) concerned cancellations, delays, or other deviations from airlines’ schedules. The Department’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) routinely contacts airlines with widespread cancellations or delays to remind them of their obligation to promptly refund passengers who choose not to accept the alternative offered for a canceled or significantly changed flight. Airlines are also required to have and adhere to a customer service plan that identifies the services that the airline provides to mitigate passenger inconveniences resulting from flight cancellations and misconnections. The Department monitors airlines ‘actions and reviews complaints that it receives against airlines to ensure that consumers’ rights are not violated.

Tarmac Delays

In April 2022, airlines reported 33 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights, compared to seven tarmac delays reported in March 2022. In April 2022, airlines reported one tarmac delay of more than four hours on international flights, compared to zero tarmac delays reported in March 2022.

Airlines are required to have and adhere to assurances that they will not allow aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours for domestic flights and four hours for international flights without providing passengers the option to deplane, subject to exceptions related to safety, security , and Air Traffic Control related reasons. An exception also exists for departure delays if the airline begins to return the aircraft to a suitable disembarkation point to deplane passengers by those times.

Extended tarmac delays are investigated by the Department.

Mishandled Baggage

In April 2022, reporting marketing carriers handled 40.0 million bags and posted a mishandled baggage rate of 0.55%, a lower rate for the March 2022 rate of 0.57% and lower rate for the pre-pandemic April 2019 rate of 0.56%.

In the previous three calendar year reports (2019 to 2022), the Department calculated the mishandled baggage rate based on the number of mishandled bags per 1,000 checked bags. The Department is now displaying the mishandled baggage data as a percentage (ie, per 100 bags enplaned). This is consistent with the manner that the mishandled wheelchairs and scooters rate is calculated and displayed.

Mishandled Wheelchairs and Scooters

In April 2022, reporting marketing carriers reported checking 61,475 wheelchairs and scooters and mishandling 896 for a rate of 1.46% mishandled wheelchairs and scooters, higher than the rate of 1.43% mishandled in March 2022 and also higher than the rate of 1.35% mishandled in pre -pandemic April 2019.

Bumping / Oversales

Bumping / oversales data, unlike other air carrier data, are reported quarterly rather than monthly. For the first quarter of 2022, the 10 US reporting marketing carriers posted an involuntary denied boarding, or bumping, rate of 0.44 per 10,000 passengers, higher than both the rate of 0.08 in the first quarter of 2021 and the rate of 0.32 in the first quarter of 2019.

Incidents Involving Animals

In April 2022, carriers reported one incident involving the death, injury, or loss of an animal while traveling by air, up from the zero reports filed in March 2022 and equal to the one report filed in pre-pandemic April 2019. April 2022’s incident involved the death of one animal.

Complaints About Treatment of Disabled Passengers

In April 2022, the Department received a total of 162 disability-related complaints, up from both the 119 disability-related complaints received in March 2022 and the 80 complaints received in pre-pandemic April 2019.

Complaints About Discrimination

In April 2022, the Department received eight complaints alleging discrimination – five complaints regarding race, one complaint regarding national origin, and two complaints regarding color. This is down from the 19 complaints received in March 2022, but up from the five complaints recorded in pre-pandemic April 2019.

Consumers may file air travel consumer or civil rights complaints online at http://airconsumer.dot.gov/escomplaint/ConsumerForm.cfm or by voicemail at (202) 366-2220, or they may mail a complaint to the Aviation Consumer Protection Division , US Department of Transportation, C-75, W96-432, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20590.

The ATCR and other aviation consumer matters of interest to the public can be found at https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer.

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