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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Air Travel Consumer Report: March 2024 Numbers

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today released its Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR) on airline operational data compiled for the month of March 2024 for on-time performance, mishandled baggage, mishandled wheelchairs and scooters, and 1st quarter oversales. The ATCR is designed to assist consumers with information on the quality of services provided by airlines. 

For March 2024, 0.9% of flights were cancelled, lower than the 1.3% cancellation rate for March 2023 and the 2.0% cancellation rate for pre-pandemic March 2019.  

DOT expects that airlines will operate flights as scheduled and that when they do not, airlines will provide consumers the services promised when a flight is cancelled or delayed because of an airline issue. After a two-year DOT push to improve the passenger experience, the 10 largest airlines now guarantee meals and free rebooking on the same airline and nine guarantee hotel accommodations. Consumer-friendly information regarding airline commitments to their customers is available on the Department’s Airline Customer Service Dashboard at FlightRights.Gov. DOT also pushed airlines to provide fee-free family seating and rolled out a new family seating dashboard that highlights the airlines that guarantee fee-free family seating, and those of the 10 largest that do not, making it easier for parents to avoid paying junk fees to sit with their children when they fly.

DOT recently announced two final rules that require airlines to provide automatic cash refunds to passengers when owed and protect consumers from costly surprise airline fees. These rules will significantly expand consumer protections in air travel, provide passengers an easier pathway to refunds when owed, and save consumers more than half a billion dollars every year in hidden and surprise junk fees. Provisions of the final rule on airline refunds were fortified through the FAA reauthorization bill that President Biden signed into law on May 16, 2024.

In addition, DOT is improving transportation for individuals with disabilities. In July 2023, DOT finalized a rule which requires airlines to make lavatories on new, single-aisle aircraft more accessible. Then, in February 2024, DOT issued a proposal to address other barriers that Americans who use a wheelchair encounter when it comes to air travel by, among other things, proposing to mandate enhanced training for airline employees and contractors who physically assist passenger with disabilities and handle passengers’ wheelchairs.

Further, when necessary, DOT takes enforcement action against airlines and ticket agents that fail to comply with the Department’s aviation consumer protection requirements. In 2023, DOT issued the largest fines in the history of the consumer protection office. This includes a $140 million penalty against Southwest Airlines for failing passengers during the 2022 holiday meltdown. That penalty, which was in addition to over $600 million DOT already ensured was refunded by Southwest to passengers, requires Southwest to establish a $90 million compensation system for passengers affected by significant delays and cancellations beginning April 30, 2024.  Additionally, DOT has helped return nearly $4 billion in refunds to travelers since the pandemic began.

In April, DOT announced the launch of the bipartisan Airline Passenger Protection Partnership with 18 state attorneys general to investigate airlines and ticket agents and hold them accountable when they violate aviation consumer protection laws. The partnership significantly expands the Department’s oversight capacity by establishing a new fast-track system prioritizing misconduct cases from state attorneys general who uncover unfair or deceptive airline practices. Through the partnership, DOT will provide state attorneys general with access to the federal complaint database and help ensure that airlines cooperate with state investigations.

Flight Operations

The 623,409 flights operated in March 2024 were 102.47% of the 608,387 flights operated in March 2023. Operated flights in March 2024 were up 2.47% year-over-year from the 608,387 flights operated in March 2023 and up 13.46% month-over-month from 549,439 flights operated in February 2024. 

In March 2024, the 10 marketing network carriers reported 628,786 scheduled domestic flights, 5,377 (0.9%) of which were cancelled. In February 2024, airlines scheduled 552,691 domestic flights, 3,252 (0.6%) of which were cancelled. In March 2023, airlines scheduled 616,234 domestic flights, 7,847 (1.3%) of which were cancelled.

March 2024 On-Time Arrival

In March 2024, reporting marketing carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 78.7%, down from 83.7% in February 2024 and up from 75.4% in March 2023. The year-to-date on-time arrival rate for 2024 is 78.3%.

Highest Marketing Carrier On-Time Arrival Rates March 2024 (ATCR Table 1)

  1. Hawaiian Airlines – 87.2%
  2. Delta Air Lines Network – 84.8%
  3. United Airlines Network – 81.8% 

Lowest Marketing Carrier On-Time Arrival Rates March 2024 (ATCR Table 1)

  1. Frontier Airlines – 66.4%
  2. JetBlue Airways – 68.4%
  3. Spirit Airlines – 69.6%

For the first three months of 2024, the reporting marketing carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 78.31% up from 76.89% for the same period in 2023.

March 2024 Flight Cancellations

In March 2024, reporting marketing carriers cancelled 0.9% of their scheduled domestic flights, higher than the rate of 0.6% in February 2024 and lower than the rate of 1.3% in March 2023. The year-to-date cancellation rate for 2024 is 1.7%.

Lowest Marketing Carrier Rates of Cancelled Flights March 2024 (ATCR Table 6)

  1. Delta Air Lines Network – 0.2%  
  2. Hawaiian Airlines – 0.6%   
  3. Allegiant Air – 0.6%    

 
Highest Marketing Carrier Rates of Cancelled Flights March 2024 (ATCR Table 6)

  1. Frontier Airlines – 2.7%    
  2. Spirit Airlines – 1.7%    
  3. JetBlue Airways – 1.4%    

For the first three months of 2024, the reporting marketing carriers posted a cancellation rate of 1.7%, equal to 1.7% for the same period in 2023.

Complaints About Airline Service

The release of air travel service complaint data in the Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR) has been delayed primarily because of the continued high volume of complaints against airlines and ticket agents received by the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) and the time needed to review and process these consumer complaints. The Department is investing in modernizing its system for handling consumer complaints with the support of a Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) investment to improve the customer experience for the tens of thousands of consumers who use the system each year and enable OACP to more effectively engage in oversight of the airline industry. 

As DOT modernizes its system, given the continued high volume of air travel service complaints concerning airlines and ticket agents, DOT has revised how it processes consumer complaints received after June 1, 2023. From June 2023 until the date its system is modernized, DOT intends to revise the ATCR to display consumer submissions (complaints, inquiries, and opinions) as opposed to complaints for this period. The Department will continue to display civil rights complaints in the ATCR in a similar manner as before and anticipates publishing submission and civil rights complaint numbers for June 1, 2023 to December 31, 2023 in June 2024.

Tarmac Delays

In March 2024, airlines reported six tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights, compared to 10 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights reported in February 2024. In March 2024, airlines reported one tarmac delay of more than four hours on an international flight, compared to two tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights reported in February 2024. 

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.

The Department investigates extended tarmac delays.

Mishandled Baggage

In March 2024, reporting marketing carriers handled 43.1 million bags and posted a mishandled baggage rate of 0.52%, higher than the rate of 0.48% in February 2024, but lower than the rate of 0.58% in March 2023.

For the first quarter of 2024, the carriers posted a mishandled baggage rate of 0.58%, lower than the first quarter 2023 rate of 0.64%.

The Department began displaying the mishandled baggage data as a percentage (i.e., per 100 bags enplaned) in January 2022. This is consistent with the manner that the mishandled wheelchairs and scooters rate is calculated and displayed.  
 
In the prior three calendar year reports (2019 to 2021), the Department calculated the mishandled baggage rate based on the number of mishandled bags per 1,000 checked bags. 

Mishandled Wheelchairs and Scooters

In March 2024, reporting marketing carriers reported checking 65,793 wheelchairs and scooters and mishandling 859 for a rate of 1.31% mishandled wheelchairs and scooters, higher than the rate of 1.30% mishandled in February 2024 and lower than the rate of 1.33% mishandled in March 2023.

For the first quarter of 2024, the carriers posted a mishandled wheelchair and scooter rate of 1.36%, lower than the rate of 1.40% in the first quarter of 2023.

To address many of the significant barriers and challenges experienced by passengers who use wheelchairs, the Department has proposed a rulemaking that, if adopted as proposed would make it an automatic violation of the Department’s Air Carrier Access Act regulations for airlines to mishandle a passenger’s wheelchair. This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would also enhance training requirements for airline personnel who provide hands-on transfer assistance to passengers and handle wheelchairs. The proposal is available at https://www.regulations.gov, docket number DOT-OST-2022-0144.

Bumping/Oversales

Bumping/oversales data, unlike other air carrier data, are reported quarterly rather than monthly.
For the first quarter of 2024, the 10 U.S. reporting marketing carriers posted an involuntary denied boarding, or bumping, rate of 0.27 per 10,000 passengers, lower than both the rate of 0.29 in the first quarter of 2023 and higher than the rate of 0.20 in the fourth quarter of 2023.

Incidents Involving Animals

As part of its IT modernization, DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) is improving the options for covered carriers to submit their monthly and annual Reports on Incidents Involving Animals During Air Transport. While the new system is being developed, OACP is permitting covered carriers to delay submission of reports on incidents involving animals during air transport. Annual data on such incidents will be published when DOT receives carriers’ complete submissions of the 2023 data. 

In March 2024, carriers reported zero incidents involving the death, injury, or loss of an animal while traveling by air, down from the two reports filed in February 2024, and equal to the zero reports filed in March 2023.

Consumers may file air travel consumer or civil rights complaints online at  https://secure.dot.gov/air-travel-complaint, or they may mail a complaint to the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection, U.S. Department of Transportation, C-70, 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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Official news published at https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/air-travel-consumer-report-march-2024-numbers

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