NEW REPORT: The Plane Truth 3 points to ongoing problems

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WASHINGTON – So far in 2023, airline passengers aren’t finding travel much easier than it was in problem-filled 2022, according to The Plane Truth 3, a U.S. PIRG Education Fund analysis of newly released data from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). In addition, consumers are lodging significantly more complaints this year than last year — so many, in fact, that the DOT hasn’t publicly released complaint data since February, a stark departure from its usually prompt reporting of that data.

“Perhaps most concerning is the information that isn’t there,”said Teresa Murray, PIRG’s Consumer Watchdog and author of the report. “DOT officials say they’re bombarded with more complaints than they can process – even more than last year’s nearly 78,000, most of them against U.S. airlines, which hit a record. Complaints are filed when there’s a problem that doesn’t get resolved. That’s troubling. We’re another year past the pandemic. You’d think the airlines would be doing better.” 

Crunching the DOT’s operations data for the first half of 2023, which are separate from complaints, U.S. PIRG Education Fund found passengers have good reasons to still be unhappy with many aspects of the U.S. flying experience. For example, when vacation season started in June, airlines canceled fewer flights compared with a year ago, but delayed more. Cancellations and delays both increased significantly from May to June.

“With an average delay of nearly an hour this summer, a lot of people probably missed a connecting flight,” Murray said. “With other issues such as lost baggage and bumping, the number of incidents was flat compared with 2022. So they’re not getting better.”

The data also show passenger levels have returned to pre-pandemic 2019 levels, but there were about 400,000 fewer flights from January through June compared with 2019, so flights this year are more packed. As summer travel season picked up from May to June, airline performance got worse, according to the analysis.

“Given the airlines’ struggles once summer vacations began, I’m concerned about how passengers will fare during the holiday season when flights really fill up,” Murray said. “Let’s hope holiday travel this year goes smoother than it has the last few years. Flyers are tired of dealing with all the turbulence.”

To avoid even more unhappy passengers, the airlines need to get in gear right away. The Federal Aviation Administration projects that Thursday, October 5 (the release date for The Plane Truth 3), will, somewhat surprisingly, be the busiest day of the busiest holiday weekend so far in 2023, with 54,204 flights. The Plane Truth 3 will also look at what’s being done to reduce problems and offer new tips for dealing with last-minute delays and cancellations. 

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