U.S. complaints against airlines soar as on-time arrivals drop


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A screen displays flight status at O’Hare International Airport before the Thanksgiving holiday in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., November 20, 2021.REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo


David Shepherdson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of U.S. consumer complaints against U.S. airlines more than quadrupled in April compared with pre-pandemic levels, as on-time arrivals fell, according to a report on Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced Thursday that it received 5,079 complaints about airline service in April, an increase of more than 320 percent from the 1,205 complaints it received in April 2019. Reuters first reported the findings earlier on Thursday.

Voyager (NYSE: ) is facing an already rough summer as airlines anticipate record demand and rebuild workforce levels after thousands of workers left the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Air passengers face long queues, crowded airports and few open seats.

USDOT said Thursday that it “remains committed to ensuring fair protection for airline passengers and is concerned about recent cancellations and flight disruptions.”

The department said 32 percent of complaints involved refunds, while 31 percent involved flight delays and other issues. In April 2022, the on-time arrival rate of major airlines was 76%, down from 77.2% in March and down from 79.8% in April 2019, the report said.

Airlines operated 566,893 flights in April, about 87% of the number of flights in the same month in 2019. The four largest 10 airlines canceled 2.3% of domestic flights in April, down slightly from 2.4% in April 2019, the USDOT said.

Delta Air Lines (NYSE: ) had the highest on-time performance at 81.9%, followed by United Airlines (80.9%) and Hawaiian Airlines (80.8%).JetBlue Airways (NASDAQ: ) had the lowest on-time performance at 53.3%, followed by Frontier Airlines (58.4%) and Spirit Airlines (NYSE: ) (58.5%).

JetBlue said in April it would cut its originally planned summer schedule by more than 10%, citing operational issues.

American Airlines, which represents major airlines, said it is working with the federal government “to address operational challenges and achieve the highest levels of customer service while prioritizing the safety of all travelers.”

The department plans to announce formal rules on the requirement for airlines to provide prompt refunds when airlines cancel or make significant changes, including when purchased tickets are non-refundable.

In July 2021, USDOT proposed new rules that would require passenger airlines to refund fees for severely delayed bags and unavailable services such as in-flight Wi-Fi.

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