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Friday, February 3, 2023

Air Travel Consumer Report: October Consumer Complaints Down 12% from September, Yet Remain Three Times Higher Than Pre-Pandemic Levels

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation today released its Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR) on airline operational data compiled for the month of October 2022 for on-time performance, consumer complaints, mishandled baggage, and mishandled wheelchairs and scooters. There was a 12.0% decrease in air travel service complaints from September to October; however, complaints are more than 370% above pre-pandemic levels in October 2019.

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 treated fairly and is concerned about recent flight cancellations and flight disruptions. During the summer, the Department rolled out a new airline customer service dashboard to help travelers determine what services they are owed when a flight is canceled or delayed because of an airline issue. Because of the creation of this dashboard and Secretary Buttigieg urging U.S. airlines to improve their service, the airlines made significant changes to their plans. Before DOT pressed airlines, none of them guaranteed meals or hotels when they were the cause of a cancellation or significant flight change. Today, all 10 large U.S. airlines commit to providing meals upon request when a controllable cancellation or delay results in passengers waiting for three hours or more for a new flight. In addition, nine of the ten large U.S. airlines now promise to provide hotel accommodations upon request for any passenger affected by a controllable overnight delay or cancellation. A controllable cancellation or delay is a delay or cancellation caused by the airline.

The Department is taking other actions to address flight delays and cancellations, including monitoring airlines’ operations to ensure that airlines are not engaging in unrealistic scheduling of flights and are complying with aviation consumer protection requirements. This includes ensuring consumers receive prompt refunds if they are no longer interested in continuing their travel when their flights are cancelled or significantly changed. Further, the Department has proposed a rule on Airline Ticket Refunds, which, if adopted, would: 1) require airlines to proactively inform passengers that they have a right to receive a refund when a flight is canceled or significantly changed, and 2) define for the first time a “significant change” and “cancellation” that would entitle a consumer to a refund. The rule would also 3) require airlines to provide non-expiring vouchers or travel credits when people can’t travel because they have COVID-19 or other communicable diseases; and 4) require airlines that receive significant government assistance in the future related to a pandemic to issue refunds instead of non-expiring travel credits or vouchers when passengers are unable or advised not to travel because of a serious communicable disease. 

DOT 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

The 590,444 flights operated in October 2022 were 85.97% of the 686,811 flights operated in pre-pandemic October 2019.  Operated flights in October 2022 were up 1.32% year-over-year from the 582,759 flights operated in October 2021 and up 3.31% month-over-month from 571,533 flights operated in September 2022.

In October 2022, the 10 marketing network carriers reported 595,322 scheduled domestic flights, 4,878 (0.8%) of which were canceled. In October 2021, the same airlines reported 595,373 scheduled domestic flights, 12,614 (2.1%) of which were canceled. In September 2022, airlines scheduled 580,391 domestic flights, of which 8,858 (1.5%) were canceled. In October 2019, airlines scheduled 692,944 domestic flights, of which 6,133 (0.9%) were canceled.

October 2022 On-Time Arrival

In October 2022, reporting marketing carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 83.4% up from 82.1% in September 2022 and up from 82.2% in pre-pandemic October 2019. The year-to-date on-time arrival rate for 2022 is 77.2%.

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

  1. Delta Air Lines Network – 88.0%
  2. United Airlines Network – 87.1%
  3. Alaska Airlines Network – 86.1% 

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

  1. Hawaiian Airlines – 58.2%
  2. Frontier Airlines – 70.3%
  3. JetBlue Airways – 72.7%

October 2022 Flight Cancellations

In October 2022, reporting marketing carriers canceled 0.8% of their scheduled domestic flights, lower than the rate 1.5% in September 2022 and lower than the rate of 0.9% in pre-pandemic October 2019.

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

  1. Alaska Airlines Network – 0.4%  
  2. United Airlines Network – 0.5%   
  3. Hawaiian Airlines – 0.5%

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

  1. Spirit Airlines – 2.3%    
  2. Frontier Airlines – 1.7%    
  3. JetBlue Airways – 1.4%    

Complaints About Airline Service

In October 2022, DOT received 5,379 complaints about airline service from consumers, down 12.0% from the 6,115 complaints received in September 2022 and up 372.3% from the 1,139 complaints received in pre-pandemic October 2019.

Of the 5,379 complaints received in October 2022, 3,023 (56.2%) were against U.S. carriers, 1,977 (36.8%) were against foreign air carriers, and 377 (7.0%) were against travel companies. 

Flight problems was the highest category of the complaints received in October 2022. Of the 5,379 complaints received, 1,427 (26.5%) concerned cancellations, delays, or other deviations from airlines’ schedules. OACP routinely monitors airlines’ operations to ensure that airlines are not engaging in unrealistic scheduling of flights. OACP also contacts airlines with widespread cancellations or delays to make clear their obligation to promptly refund passengers who choose not to accept the alternative offered for a canceled or significantly changed flight, and remind them of their obligation to adhere to their 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. (Read more about airline consumers’ rights here.)

Refunds was the second highest category of the complaints received in October 2022. Of the 5,379 complaints received, 1,256 (23.4%) concerned refunds. OACP continues to communicate with airlines and travel companies that receive refund complaints to ensure compliance with the refund requirements. Tens of thousands of passengers who were initially denied refunds and contacted the Department have since received the required refunds. The Department has taken and will take enforcement action against noncompliant airlines and ticket agents as necessary. In November 2022, the Department announced historic enforcement actions against six airlines, which were fined more than $7.25 million and collectively paid more than half a billion dollars to people who were owed a refund due to a canceled or significantly changed flight. These fines were the largest in the history of OACP in a single year and are part of DOT’s ongoing work to ensure Americans receive the refunds they are owed from airlines.

Also, of the 5,379 complaints received in October 2022, 998 (18.6%) concerned baggage issues. Of 998 baggage complaints, 606 were against foreign air carriers (60.7%) and 390 (39.1%) were against U.S. carriers. OACP has contacted the carriers that experienced significant spikes in the number of baggage complaints to obtain information on the reasons for the spikes and to ensure that airlines are complying with the baggage requirements, including reimbursing passengers for reasonable, verifiable, and actual expenses that they may incur when their bags are delayed.

Tarmac Delays

In October 2022, airlines reported zero tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights, compared to 13 tarmac delays reported in September 2022. In October 2022, airlines reported zero tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights, compared to one tarmac delay reported in September 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 October 2022, reporting marketing carriers handled 40.5 million bags and posted a mishandled baggage rate of 0.49%, a higher rate than  the September 2022 rate of 0.48% and higher rate than the pre-pandemic October 2019 rate of 0.48%.

In the previous three calendar year reports (2019, 2020 and 2021), 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 (i.e., 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 October 2022, reporting marketing carriers reported checking 72,085 wheelchairs and scooters and mishandling 1092 for a rate of 1.51% mishandled wheelchairs and scooters, higher than the rate of 1.46% mishandled in September 2022 and higher than the rate of 1.29% mishandled in pre-pandemic October 2019.

Bumping/Oversales

Bumping/oversales data, unlike other air carrier data, are reported quarterly rather than monthly.
For the third quarter of 2022, the 10 U.S. reporting marketing carriers posted an involuntary denied boarding, or bumping, rate of 0.22 per 10,000 passengers, higher than the rate of 0.16 in the third quarter of 2021 and higher than the rate of 0.19 in the third quarter of 2019.

Incidents Involving Animals

In October 2022, carriers reported two incidents involving the death, injury, or loss of an animal while traveling by air, up from the zero reports filed in both September 2022 and in pre-pandemic October 2019. October 2022’s incidents involved the death of one animal and injury to one other animal.

Complaints About Treatment of Disabled Passengers

In October 2022, the Department received a total of 206 disability-related complaints, up from both the 182 disability-related complaints received in September 2022 and the 77 complaints received in pre-pandemic October 2019. 

Complaints About Discrimination

In October 2022, the Department received 16 complaints alleging discrimination – nine complaints regarding race, one complaint regarding ancestry/ethnicity, two complaints regarding national origin, one complaint regarding color, two complaints regarding religion, and one complaint regarding sexual discrimination. This is up from both the 12 complaints received in September 2022 and the nine complaints recorded in pre-pandemic October 2019.

The Department is committed to combating all forms of discrimination and will act if it finds that any carrier violated Federal anti-discrimination statutes.  

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, U.S. 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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Official news published at https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/air-travel-consumer-report-october-consumer-complaints-down-12-september-yet-remain

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