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U.S. Airline Passenger Complaints Set to Smash Records in 2023

The number of complaints from January through May jumped 109 percent compared to the same period in 2022

by Fergus Cole

December 14, 2023

Photo: Courtesy of Marco López / Unsplash

The Department of Transportation (DOT) reported a significant increase in dissatisfied air passengers in the U.S. during the first five months of 2023 despite a decline in flight cancellations.

A recent report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), which was based on DOT data, found that consumer complaints against U.S. airlines are on track to break records in 2023, following on from another record-breaking year in 2022.

Between January and May this year, the number of complaints made against U.S. carriers more than doubled over the same period the previous year, rising by more than 109 percent.

Photo: Courtesy of Anete Lusina / Unsplash

“The complaint data is pretty jaw-dropping,” said Teresa Murray, a consumer advocate at the U.S. PIRG and author of the report. “People are still ticked off and unhappy with their airline experience. The complaints are continuing to pour in.”

Despite significantly improving flight cancellation rates, air passenger complaints have surged. From January to September 2023, only 1.5 percent of all flights were canceled in the U.S., compared to 2.6 percent over the previous year.

Flight delays have become a significant concern for passengers this year compared to the previous year. The on-time performance of major U.S. carriers has decreased to 76.2 percent during the first nine months of this year, whereas it was 76.6 percent during the same period last year. In the previous 15 years, this percentage has been below 77 percent only once.

Delta Tops, Frontier Last

The best-performing U.S. airline when it came to on-time performance between January and September of this year was Delta Air Lines, with 81.23 percent of its more than 1.1 million scheduled flights arriving on time. This was closely followed by Alaska Airlines at 80.26 percent, with American Airlines coming in third place with 76.86 percent of its flights arriving on time.

Photo: Courtesy of Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines was on the other end of the scale, with just 63.23 percent of its flights arriving on time over the same period. JetBlue didn’t fare much better, with just 64.91 percent of its scheduled flights arriving on time, while another low-cost carrier – Spirit Airlines – propped up the bottom three with an on-time performance of 66.89 percent.

Delays and Refunds: Most Common Issues

Regarding customer complaints over the first five months of 2023, almost 35 percent were related to flight issues, including delays, cancellations, and missed connections. The next biggest pain point for passengers was refund issues, which comprised around 20 percent of all complaints.

Meanwhile, complaints over lost or damaged baggage or wheelchairs comprised 16 percent, a similar proportion to the same period in 2022.

Photo: Courtesy of Calle Macarone / Unsplash

According to the report, the surging number of passenger complaints overall has caused the DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection to fall behind its regular schedule of tallying and releasing the data.

Murray also warned travelers that the upcoming holiday season is expected to be extremely busy for the airline industry, inevitably leading to more issues and complaints.

“We know that the flights are going to be absolutely jam-packed here in the next couple of weeks,” said Murray. “We definitely recommend that you do the old thing of getting to airports early because you have less of a chance of getting bumped. You have more of a chance of getting where you want to get.”