Earlier today, the United States Department of Transportation released its Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR), outlining consumer complaints, mishandled wheelchairs and scooters, mishandled luggage, and on-time performance. The report shows that July’s consumer complaints are up from June and more than 260% above pre-pandemic levels.

Staffing shortages

As travel continues to rebound, airlines and airports continue to struggle operationally. Airlines are short-staffed in every aspect possible, customer service agents, gate agents, ramp staff, and even pilots. Airport restaurants close early because they do not have the workforce to stay open until the night’s last flight.

These struggles have bled into day-to-day operations, which has greatly affected passengers. Over the past few months, airlines have had to severely cut schedules, and cancel flights at the last minute because there are not enough crew members to staff the flight. Ground operations have also been hit, and luggage takes longer to arrive at baggage claims because ramp agents have to perform multiple roles.

DEN Airport terminal

Consumer complaints are high in the United States, and customer satisfaction rates have decreased. Photo: Lukas Souza | Simple Flying

All of the above have increased consumer reports from June to July. From June to July, there was a 16.5% increase in consumer complaints, more than 260% above the pre-pandemic levels. The DOT’s June ATCR showed that there had been a 34.9% increase in complaints from May to June.

Operational disruptions

In July 2022, 607,657 flights were operated in the United States, 86.5% of the 702,876 operated in July 2019, before the pandemic. Compared to July 2021, there was a very slight increase in flights operated, just 0.35%. July 2022 numbers were up 4.1% from June 2022.

Cancellations in July 2022 were down by 1.3% compared to June 2022. In July, the ten marketing network carriers scheduled 618,790 domestic flights, of which 11,133 (1.8%) were canceled. In June, 19,473 flights were canceled, representing 3.1% of operations for the month. Airlines reported 615,703 scheduled domestic flights in July 2021 and 10,195 cancellations, 1.7% of that month’s schedule.

On-time arrival rates are almost at 2019 levels, but not quite there. July 2022 had an on-time arrival rate of 74.9%, up from 73.5% in June 2022, while July 2019 had an on-time arrival rate of 76.9%. The three airlines with the highest arrival rates were Alaska Airlines Network, Hawaiian Airlines, and Delta Air Lines Network. Allegiant Air, JetBlue Airways, and Southwest Airlines had the lowest on-time arrival rate.

As mentioned above, July 2022 saw a higher cancellation rate than July 2021 but lower than the levels of July 2019 and June 2022. The three airlines with the lowest canceled flights in July were Hawaiian Airlines (0.1%), Spirit Airlines (0.4%), and Alaska Airlines Network (0.4%). American Airlines Network led the airlines with the most cancellations (2.5%), United Airlines came in second place (2.0%), and in third was JetBlue Airways (1.8%).

American Airlines Boeing 737 parked at gate at FLL

American Airlines is known for delays and cancellations, and the DOT’s report confirmed that the airline had the most cancellations in the U.S. in July. Photo: Lukas Souza | Simple Flying

In July, the DOT received almost 7,000 complaints from consumers about airline service. Of the 6,831 complaints received, more than half were against U.S. airlines (50.6%), 43.3% were against foreign airlines, and the remaining 6.1% were against travel agencies.

The highest category of complaints was baggage, amounting to 27% of the total complaints for the month. Most of the baggage complaints were against foreign airlines. The next highest category involves delays, cancellations, or any other changes to airlines’ schedules. This category amounted to 26.5% of complaints.

“The department monitors airlines’ actions and reviews complaints it receives against airlines to ensure that consumers’ rights are not violated.”

Another 20.7% of complaints were regarding refunds.

“The Department has taken and will take enforcement action against non-compliant airlines and ticket agents as necessary. OACP is actively pursuing enforcement action against ten airlines for extreme delays in providing refunds for flights the airlines canceled or significantly changed.”

In July, Mishandled baggage rates were down compared to June 2022 but were still higher than in July 2019. The reporting carriers handled 43 million bags in July and only mishandled 0.64%, down from 0.71% in June and higher than the July 2019 rate of 0.63%. Wheelchairs and scooters were mishandled at a higher rate than bags, with 1.63%. In June, carriers mishandled 1.68% of wheelchairs and scooters, lower than July 2019, which had mishandle rate of 1.71%.

The Department of Transportation also received complaints involving bumping/overselling, animals, treatment of disabled passengers, and discrimination.

How long do you think it will take American carriers to get their operational shortcomings sorted and for the DOT to see lower rates of complaints than pre-pandemic? Let us know in the comments below.

Source: simpleflying.com

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