Air Travel Consumer Report: September Consumer Complaints Down 15.6% from August, 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 September 2022 and 3rd quarter 2022 numbers (nine months data) for on-time performance, consumer complaints received, mishandled baggage, and mishandled wheelchairs and scooters. There was a 15.6% decrease in air travel service complaints from August to September; however, complaints are more than 380% above pre-pandemic levels in September 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 people 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 airlines to improve their service, nine airlines now guarantee meals and nine guarantee hotels. Previously, none of the 10 largest U.S. airlines guaranteed meals or hotels when a significant delay or cancellation was within the airlines control.
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.
The 571,533 flights operated in September 2022 were 87.97% of the 649,667 flights operated in pre-pandemic September 2019. Operated flights in September 2022 were up 2.03% year-over-year from the 560,140 flights operated in September 2021 and down 4.45% month-over-month from the 598,166 flights operated in August 2022.
In September 2022, the 10 marketing network carriers reported 580,391 scheduled domestic flights, 8,858 (1.5%) of which were canceled. In September 2021, the same airlines reported 567,916 scheduled domestic flights, 7,776 (1.4%) of which were canceled. In August 2022, airlines scheduled 613,649 domestic flights, of which 15,483 (2.5%) were canceled. In September 2019, airlines scheduled 660,712 domestic flights, of which 11,045 (1.7%) were canceled.
September 2022 and 3rd Quarter 2022 On-Time Arrival
In September 2022, reporting marketing carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 82.1% up from 75.6% in August 2022 and down from 84.1% in pre-pandemic September 2019. The year-to-date on-time arrival rate for 2022 is 76.5%.
Highest Marketing Carrier On-Time Arrival Rates September 2022 (ATCR Table 1)
- Delta Air Lines Network – 88.5%
- United Airlines Network – 85.8%
- Alaska Airlines Network - 83.0%
Lowest Marketing Carrier On-Time Arrival Rates September 2022 (ATCR Table 1)
- JetBlue Airways – 68.8%
- Frontier Airlines – 70.3%
- Allegiant Air – 72.0%
For the first nine months of 2022, the reporting marketing carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 76.46% down from 78.10% for the same period in pre-pandemic 2019.
September 2022 and 3rd Quarter 2022 Flight Cancellations
In September 2022, reporting marketing carriers canceled 1.5% of their scheduled domestic flights, lower than the rate of 2.5 in August 2022, and lower than the rate of 1.7% in pre-pandemic September 2019.
Lowest Marketing Carrier Rates of Canceled Flights September 2022 (ATCR Table 6)
- Hawaiian Airlines – 0.2%
- Alaska Airlines Network – 0.7%
- Delta Air Lines Network– 0.9%
Highest Marketing Carrier Rates of Canceled Flights September 2022 (ATCR Table 6)
- Allegiant Air – 4.6%
- Frontier Airlines – 4.2%
- Spirit Airlines – 3.5%
For the first nine months of 2022, the reporting marketing carriers posted a cancellation rate of 2.8% up from 2.2% for the same period in pre-pandemic 2019.
Complaints About Airline Service
In September 2022, DOT received 6,115 complaints about airline service from consumers, down 15.6% from the 7,243 complaints received in August 2022 and up 386.1% from the 1,258 complaints received in pre-pandemic September 2019.
For the first nine months of 2022, the Department received 48,737 complaints, up 27.1% from the 38,357 filed during the first nine months of 2021.
Of the 6,115 complaints received in September 2022, 3,477 (56.9%) were against U.S. carriers, 2,222 (36.3%) were against foreign air carriers, and 413 (6.8%) were against travel companies.
Flight problems was the highest category of the complaints received in September 2022. Of the 6,115 complaints received, 2,001 (32.7%) 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 September 2022. Of the 6,115 complaints received, 1,295 (21.2%) concerned refunds. OACP continues to communicate with airlines and travel companies that receive refund complaints to ensure compliance with the refund requirements. 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. Earlier this month, 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 are part of DOT’s ongoing work to ensure Americans receive the refunds they are owed from airlines.
Also, of the 6,115 complaints received in September 2022, 1,141 (18.7%) concerned baggage issues. Of 1,141 baggage complaints, 711 were against foreign air carriers (62.3%) and 429 (37.6%) 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.
In September 2022, airlines reported 13 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights, compared to 72 tarmac delays reported in August 2022. In September 2022, airlines reported one tarmac delay of more than four hours on international flights, compared to five tarmac delays reported in August 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.
In September 2022, reporting marketing carriers handled 37.0 million bags and posted a mishandled baggage rate of 0.48%, a lower rate than the August 2022 rate of 0.64% and lower rate to the pre-pandemic September 2019 rate of 0.47%.
For the third quarter of 2022, the carriers posted a mishandled baggage rate of 0.61%, a higher rate than the third quarter 2019 rate of 0.60%.
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. Since January 2022, the Department has been 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 September 2022, reporting marketing carriers reported checking 67,006 wheelchairs and scooters and mishandling 981 for a rate of 1.46% mishandled wheelchairs and scooters, lower than the rate of 1.56% mishandled in August 2022 and higher than the rate of 1.32% mishandled in pre-pandemic September 2019.
For the third quarter of 2022, the carriers posted a mishandled wheelchair and scooter rate of 1.53%, lower than the third quarter 2019 rate of 1.59%.
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 September 2022, carriers reported no incidents involving the death, injury, or loss of an animal while traveling by air, equal to the zero reports filed in August 2022 and down from the three reports filed in pre-pandemic September 2019.
Complaints About Treatment of Disabled Passengers
In September 2022, the Department received a total of 182 disability-related complaints, down from the 195 disability-related complaints received in August 2022, but up from the 66 complaints received in pre-pandemic September 2019.
For the first nine months of 2022, the Department received 1,495 disability-related complaints, up from the total of 911 filed during the first nine months of 2021.
Complaints About Discrimination
In September 2022, the Department received 12 complaints alleging discrimination – five complaints regarding race, two complaints regarding color, two complaints regarding religion, one complaint regarding sexual discrimination, and two complaints categorized as “other.” This is down from the 14 complaints received in August 2022 and equal to the 12 complaints recorded in pre-pandemic September 2019.
For the first nine months of 2022, the Department received 141 discrimination complaints – 62 complaints regarding race, three complaints regarding ancestry/ethnicity, 11 complaints regarding national origin, 11 complaints regarding color, 48 complaints regarding religion, three complaints regarding sexual discrimination, and three complaints categorized as “other.” This is up from the total of 101 filed during the first nine months of 2021.
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.