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Airline travel complaints quadruple in 2022 compared to 2021, data shows

According to just-released DOT data, 20.64% of all flights in the US were delayed in 2022. (7News)
According to just-released DOT data, 20.64% of all flights in the US were delayed in 2022. (7News)
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Passengers are fed-up with airline cancellations, delays and other travel problems and they've buried the Department of Transportation in huge numbers of complaints to prove it.

A new analysis of 2022 data shows passenger dissatisfaction is through the roof.

“Not as many people flew last year as flew in 2019, yet consumer complaints quadrupled,” said Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “So you have fewer passengers and four times as many complaints. That's a problem. That should be a wakeup call for the airlines.”

Americans filed 60,000 complaints from January to November 2022 for everything from more than 190,000 canceled flights and 1.4 million delays, to more than three million lost, damaged or pilfered bags.

And here's the kicker: There were so many complaints in December, they didn't even make it into the 2022 report.

“The DOT got just an incredible volume of complaints in December and it was way too many for them to process even since December 31 and here we are three months later and they still haven't gotten through all of them," said Murray.

READ | Southwest Airlines flight cancellations impact hundreds of DC area travelers

Murray estimates as many as 20,000 additional complaints will eventually be tallied for December alone.

And while it’s likely the bulk of December complaints will be about Southwest airlines canceling more than 16,000 flights –-- first for weather and then because of a snowballing software problem. Murray said that debacle may be the most recent in memory, but it’s hardly exclusive.

“It's not just one airline, it's all of them at different times and different degrees,” said Murray.

Murray recently analyzed all of the Department of Transportation data for airline performance for 2022 in a comprehensive report published at the end of March. She said airlines are often shifting blame to things like COVID-19, shuttle launches and weather.

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“The weather is not to blame nearly as often as the airlines would like you to believe. It’s equipment, it’s staffing, it’s poor scheduling, it’s a bunch of other things. And weather is not anywhere near the top of the list,” said Murray.

“They're not taking enough accountability. Storms don't treat people poorly. Airlines treat people poorly. So we wouldn't have this volume of complaints if the airlines actually treated customers with respect and did the right thing."

And it’s not just the airlines. Murray looked at data for online travel agencies and the increase in complaints was stunning. From January through November 2022, there were 5,433 complaints, compared with 436 for all of 2019.

According to DOT data, these companies had more than 300 complaints against them during that time period:

  • 311
  • 1,026
  • GoToGate: 332
  • 363
  • 477
  • 302

Murray said on-time arrivals and departures also suffered in 2022.

A flight is considered by the Department of Transportation to be on time if it arrived within 15 minutes of its scheduled time.

The airlines with the worst on-time performances in 2022, according to Murray’s analysis of DOT data when the delays and cancellations within seven days are tallied are as follows:

  • Allegiant Air: 63%
  • JetBlue: 65%
  • Frontier: 66%

The airlines with the best on-time performances in 2022:

  • Delta: 82%
  • Alaska Airlines: 79%
  • United: 79%
  • American: 77%

Best advice, says Murray, as we head into the busiest time of year for travel. Know your rights.

“A lot of people don't realize that if a flight is canceled, that for any reason, it doesn't matter whether it's weather, whether it's staffing, whether its equipment, people are entitled to a full refund including all of the baggage fees, taxes, everything."

If you paid by credit card, you are entitled to your refund within seven days.

And Murray said that given the amount of lost, damaged, and pilfered luggage in 2022, take a few extra steps like adding trackers to your suitcases, scooters and wheelchairs and taking photos of your packed suitcase before you close it.

If items are stolen or missing, you are entitled to up to $3,800 and photo documentation will be helpful.

In response to all of the complaints, the Department of Transportation is coming out with a proposed rulemaking to help enforce the laws about refunds. Additionally, a number of U.S. lawmakers have airline consumer protection bills in the works.

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To file a complaint with the DOT, click here.

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