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Airline Woes Ease: Air Travel Complaints Dive in February, but Still High

A total of 6,644 complaints related to air travel were received by the U.S. Department of Transportation in February this year, with complaint numbers still much higher than last year

by Fergus Cole

August 9, 2023

Photo: London Heathrow Airport, Terminal 5A. Photo. Courtesy of BAA Airports Limited.

The number of air travel complaints received by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in February 2023 fell by almost 39% compared to January but was still around 78% higher than in February 2022.

According to the latest report from the DOT, consumers made 6,644 complaints about their airline service in February this year, a 38.6% drop from the 10,822 complaints made in January 2023. However, the figure for February was still 77.9% higher than the 3,735 airline complaints received in the same month last year.

Almost two-thirds (66.3%) of the complaints received in February 2023 were against U.S. airlines, while 29% were against international carriers. The remaining 4.7% of complaints were against travel companies.

The biggest reason for customer complaints in February 2023 was flight issues, with 31.8% of all complaints related to flight cancellations, delays, and other schedule changes.

Photo: Houston Hobby. Courtesy of Stephen M. Keller, Southwest Airlines

It’s not surprising that Southwest Airlines received the most complaints, as they accounted for 25.5% of all flight-related concerns. The DOT is investigating the airline’s issues during the 2022 holiday period, which resulted in numerous flight cancellations and disrupted travel plans for tens of thousands of families.

Refunds and Baggage Woes

In February 2023, refunds were the second most common cause of customer complaints, accounting for 21.8%. Baggage issues were the third most common reason, making up 16.1% of all complaints. Interestingly, many baggage-related complaints were targeted toward international airlines, with 47.2% directed at foreign carriers, compared to 29% of all complaints.

A total of 188 complaints were related to passenger disabilities. While this was higher than the 116 disability-related complaints received in February 2022, it was lower than the 222 reported in January 2023.

Unfortunately, the DOT also received a small number of discrimination-related complaints. A total of 20 complaints in February 2023 alleged discrimination against passengers, including eight cases of alleged racial discrimination, five complaints regarding nationality, and four reports of sexual discrimination. This was significantly higher than the three discrimination-related complaints received in February 2022, although lower than the 26 reported in January this year.

Photo: Courtesy of Kenny Eliason / Unsplash

The DOT said that it is actively working with airlines across the country to ensure that customers’ rights are being protected. Its Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) monitors airlines’ flight schedules to ensure they can be managed realistically and is currently investigating several domestic airlines over potentially problematic schedules. It also obliges airlines to reimburse passengers affected by flight disruptions fairly and efficiently.

The Department also said it is committed to taking enforcement action on any airline which fails to provide customer refunds where necessary, claiming to have returned a total of $2 billion in compensation to travelers over the last two years. It also says it will act swiftly if any airline has violated Federal anti-discrimination legislation.

There is no data on airline complaints since February, and the DOT has admitted that its reports have been delayed “primarily because of the increase in consumer complaints received this calendar year compared to the prior two years.”