NEW REPORT: Airline complaints quadrupled from 2019 through 2022 even though fewer people flew

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WASHINGTON — The number of people who traveled on U.S. airlines last year remained below pre-pandemic 2019 levels. But consumer complaints about air travel in 2022 nearly quadrupled compared with 2019. And that doesn’t even include complaints from December, when poor airline performance spoiled many families’ holidays.

“Unreliable air travel has ruined too many special times for too many Americans the last couple of years. The Christmas weekend disaster just exposed everything that’s wrong with most of the airlines,”  said Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog at U.S. PIRG Education Fund and author of the report.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on March 16 released most of its 2022 statistics on air travel. In a new report, The Plane Truth, U.S. PIRG Education Fund crunched the DOT data about complaints, cancellations, on-time arrivals, bumped passengers, lost and damaged luggage and wheelchairs, and more. DOT’s monthly air travel reports normally include details about complaints filed by consumers. For the first time in at least 25 years, however, this year-end report did not include complaint data for December. The agency said that’s because, after the airlines’ Christmas week debacle, there were too many complaints to tally in time for the year-end report’s deadline.

The top two complaint categories for the first 11 months of 2022 were (1) travelers not getting refunds for their canceled flights and (2) flight cancellations/delays.How bad were cancellations? Airlines canceled more than 190,000 flights last year, 2.7% of all flights scheduled. Aside from during COVID-ravaged 2020, that was the largest number and largest percentage of cancellations since 2001 – the year air travel was disrupted for months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 


“The airlines have made short-sighted decisions about staffing, scheduling and technology,” said Murray. “Bad weather can be a factor in cancellations but storms don’t treat customers poorly: Airlines do. We wouldn’t see this avalanche of complaints if airlines took better care of travelers.”

The U.S PIRG Education Fund report also looks at existing passenger rights, proposals by DOT and lawmakers to improve air travel and tips on what consumers can do to protect themselves.