Airline complaints nearly tripled in May compared with same pre-pandemic month

Airline complaints nearly tripled in May compared with same pre-pandemic month

July 21, 2022

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Airline complaints nearly tripled in May compared with the same month three years ago, according to a new Department of Transportation report. 

The department's Air Travel Consumer Report, a product of the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection, issued this month looked at May flight delays, mishandled baggage, wheelchairs and scooters, animal incident reports and customer service reports to the Department of Homeland Security.

The department's data showed 2,413 complaints against U.S. airlines in May, compared with 814 in May 2019. 

The 4,344 total complaints about airline service from consumers was down 14.5% from April – but still up 237% from the 1,289 complaints received in pre-pandemic May 2019.

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More than 1,470 were against foreign air carriers, and 457 were against travel companies. 

Over 30% of this May's complaints concerned refunds and 23.8% concerned cancellations, delays or other deviations from airlines’ schedules, with the department noting that COVID-19 pandemic impacts continue "to result in significant changes to airline schedules and operations."

Reporting marketing carriers posted an on-time arrival rate that was up slightly from April and down just 0.7% from May 2019; the carriers canceled 2% of scheduled domestic flights which was equal to the same rate in May 2019.

Tarmac delays of more than three hours nearly doubled from April to May of this year.

A JetBlue airliner lands past a Spirit Airlines jet on taxi way at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport on Monday, April 25, 2022.  (Joe Cavaretta/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images / Getty Images)

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Mishandled baggage was 0.1% higher than in April and lower than the pre-pandemic May. 

The trend continued with mishandled wheelchairs and scooters, with a 1.53% in May 2022, which was higher than April and lower than the rate of 1.54% in May 2019.

There were incidents involving the death, injury or loss of an animal while traveling by air in May. 

Complaints about the treatment of disabled passengers were down from April, but markedly up from pre-pandemic May 2019.

Delta planes are shown at their gates Monday, June 13, 2022, at Salt Lake City International Airport, in Salt Lake City.  (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer / AP Newsroom)

There were 52 complaints alleging discrimination last May; that's up from nine in May 2019. More than 40 of the May 2022 complaints were regarding religion.

"DOT remains committed to ensuring airline passengers are treated fairly and is concerned about recent flight cancellations and flight disruptions. The Department’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) is monitoring airlines’ operations to ensure that airlines are not engaging in unrealistic scheduling of flights and are complying with aviation consumer protection requirements," the department said in a release.

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"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. 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," it said.

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