Americans are complaining more and more about airlines


Airline passengers became so frustrated with their bags getting lost and flights being canceled last year, that they sent a near-record amount of gripes to the federal government. 

The number of complaints passengers sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation, travel agents and third-party booking sites like Expedia and Priceline grew from 15,342 in 2019 to at least 60,732 in 2022, according to a report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). Complaints quadrupled in the past three years even though the number of flight passengers has fallen from 886 million in 2019 to 799 million last year, PIRG said in its report. Passengers complained about flight cancellations and delays getting ticket refunds more than any other issue, the consumer advocacy group said. 

About 60,000-plus complaints mark the second-highest tally since DOT started keeping tabs in 1997, Teresa Murray, a consumer watchdog for PIRG, told CBS MoneyWatch. The record is 102,550 complaints filed in 2020. Murray noted that the 2022 figure does not include complaints passengers filed in December because DOT officials haven’t released that data yet. 

“We’re expecting at least 10,000, maybe 15,000 or 20,000,” she said. “I’d be a little surprised, though, but not gobsmacked, if the December number pushed us into six figures for the year.”

Murray also noted that the 2022 total does not include complaints that passengers may have sent directly to an airline. 

Flight attendant entertains delayed flight


Airlines for America — an industry trade group whose members include Delta, JetBlue and United — said 66% of cancellations last year were due to weather and were out of an airlines control. The trade group said other delays and cancellations airlines announced stemmed from staff shortages that companies are looking to rectify now.

“For example, carriers are still experiencing higher than usual absenteeism, and our industry now requires more staff to operate flights,” the group told CBS MoneyWatch in a statement. “This is why A4A carriers are continuing to ramp up training, in addition to launching aggressive, highly successful hiring campaigns.”

Still, last year marked turbulent times for passengers as U.S. airlines canceled 190,038 domestic flights and delayed another 1.4 million, according to DOT data. PIRG said, aside from 2020, last year marked the highest number of flight cancellations since 2001 — when skies were empty following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Several factors played a role in the increased cancellations, including over-scheduled flights and spikes in holiday travelers.

Flight cancellations grew so frequent last summer that U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was prompted to send a letter to airlines and characterize their performance as “unacceptable.”

Buttigieg also called on airlines to provide meal vouchers to customers whose delays were longer than three hours, and to provide lodging to those who had to stay overnight due to disruptions with their flight that were “within the carrier’s control.”

Over the past three years, passengers have complained the most about difficulty getting a refund, PIRG said. Passengers have the right to a refund under a Transportation Department rule, but the PIRG report said many travelers reported that airlines stalled when it was time to return their fare. 

Southwest Airlines passengers looking for refunds after holiday travel chaos


“I’ve heard from lots of people who are due refunds from Christmastime who still haven’t filed DOT complaints because they’re hoping the airline will issue the refund,” Murray said. 

PIRG built its analysis using DOT Air Travel Consumer Reports dating back to 1997. Aside from cancellations and refunds, passengers also complained about their baggage being lost, stolen or mishandled as well as being bumped to a much later flight, the PIRG report found. 

The analysis shows that passengers find it even more stressful to board airplanes today, PIRG concluded. That’s because travelers are unsure if their flight will be canceled, delayed or if their luggage will make it to the final destination. 


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