REPORT: Frontier, Spirit, JetBlue have worst complaint ratios

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CLEVELANDMichael and Marjorie Mathews booked a flight from Detroit to Fort Lauderdale in January. The couple got confirmation by email and seat assignments for Delta Flight 1378. The day before the March 25 flight, Michael was told their tickets had been canceled. The mind-blowing part of the story is Delta said it didn’t have any seats available for the Saturday flight they’d booked for $628 per ticket. But at the last minute, Delta sold him two seats on the exact same flight for $1,708 each. And, they were the exact same seats – 28B and 28C. Plus, they still haven’t gotten a refund for the $628 tickets. Delta blames the ticket agent,, which in turn, blames Delta. 

Ironically, Delta was among the best airlines in just about every category in 2022, while Frontier had far and away the worst complaint record of any of the 17 airlines measured by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). In a new follow-up report, The Plane Truth, Part 2, U.S. PIRG Education Fund analyzed just-released details about the full year of consumer complaints filed against U.S. and foreign airlines, travel agencies and tour operators on various issues.

The sequel to last month’s analysis, this report looks at both complaints and incidents to show which airlines have the best and worst records for cancellations/delays, refunds, mishandled baggage, mishandled wheelchairs and bumping. We also provide tips for travelers and recommendations for regulators and lawmakers.

“Air travel is just a mess right now,” said Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog at U.S. PIRG Education Fund and author of the report. “Here’s one way you can tell. Our analysis shows the complaints-to-passengers ratio was more than five times higher in 2022 than in 2019. Airlines often post unrealistic schedules, they cancel flights and they drag their feet with refunds. Airlines and online ticket agents just don’t face enough consequences when they abuse customers.”

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Airline complaints have become more common in this post-pandemic era. In fact, consumers filed more complaints against U.S. airlines in 2022 than in any year in at least a quarter-century. Consumers filed 77,656 total complaints in 2022, the second-highest number behind refund-plagued 2020, according to DOT records going back to 1997. But in 2020, most of the 102,550 complaints were against foreign airlines. That leaves the 47,591 complaints that consumers filed last year against U.S. airlines topping any year in the last quarter-century.

Other takeaways from our analysis of the 80-page DOT report: Nearly one-third of the complaints were about cancellations and delays, propelling that category to the top of the 2022 list. No. 2 was refunds and No. 3 was mishandled baggage. And complaints against online ticket agents were 13 times higher last year than in 2019.