US airlines saw large increase in complaints first half of 2022

If you lodged a complaint to an airline about its performance this year, you are far from alone.

New federal data show the number passenger complaints to US carriers more than doubled in the first half of 2022, from January to June, compared with the first half of 2021 – with nearly six times more complaints about flight problems like cancellations, delays or missed connections .

The new crush of complaints came as airlines dramatically increased capacity to meet surging demand. The data show airlines increased their total flight volume, or airline operations, by 25%.

Still, the rate of passenger complaints climbed well beyond that figure, rising from 6,827 in the first half of 2021 to 15,955 during the same period this year. The number of flight-problem-related complaints soared from 1,035 to 5,569.

The same data show every major US airline had worse on-time arrival rates in the first six months of 2022 compared with the same period in 2021.

For the second year in a row, Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, which also has hubs in Los Angeles; Punta Gorda, Florida; Phoenix; and Asheville, North Carolina, finished the first half of 2022 with the worst on-time rate, at 61.63%. That’s compared with an on-time rate of 74.29% during the same period last year, according to the data.

Allegiant was followed by JetBlue Airways, at 62.08% (versus 76.78% last year), and Frontier Airlines, at 64.5% (versus 81.14% last year).

Only Texas-based Envoy Air, with hubs in Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago and Miami, had a statistically insignificant change in its on-time arrival rate during the period, which fell from 80.9% to 80.7%.

Among the largest carriers, American Airlines’ on-time rate fell from 82.85% in 2021 to 75.33% in 2022, United Airlines’ fell from 85.19% to 77.38%, and Delta Airlines’ fell from 89.67% to 81.03%.

Staffing shortages, unprecedented post-pandemic demand for air travel and wild weather have all played roles in disrupting flights this year. To help reduce delays, airlines have begun eliminating some routes from their schedules.

Many airlines increased the number of flights they offered in the first half of 2022 to meet demand, only to run into the staffing and weather issues, said Kathleen Bangs, a spokeswoman for the flight data group FlightAware.com. In an email, she said that in some cases, the airlines with the best on-time rates, like Envoy, kept their capacity expansions to a minimum.

By contrast, JetBlue increased its capacity by 60% year on year, while its on-time rate fell by 14 percentage points.

The Transportation Department is set to introduce a tool that clearly explains “the services or amenities that each of the large US airlines provide” when delays or cancellations occur due to factors within carriers’ control. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has called on airlines to do more to reduce disruptions.

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