Air Travel Complaints Quadruple From Pre-Pandemic Levels

Air Travel Complaints Quadruple From Pre-Pandemic Levels

by Mia Taylor
on March 29, 2023
Last updated: 3:50 PM ET, Wed March 29, 2023

Flight cancellations at airport.

Flight cancellations at airport. (photo via structuresxx / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Consumers remain less than pleased with their air travel experiences.

New data shows that while the number of people who flew U.S. airlines in 2022 remains below pre-pandemic 2019 levels, complaints about air travel have nearly quadrupled compared to three years ago. What’s more, the new data analysis, from U.S. PIRG Education Fund, doesn’t even account for the tidal wave of consumer complaints in December 2022, which resulted from the Southwest Airlines scheduling meltdown.

The biggest gripe among travelers for 2022? The lack of refunds from airlines, which topped the list for the first 11 months of 2022. On the bright side, the number of refund complaints overall is down in comparison to 2021, the report notes. But they’re still 10 times higher than in 2019. And again, as a reminder, this data is all before the onslaught of December 2022 consumer complaint filings.

Additional highlights from the analysis include:

-Airlines canceled 190,038 flights in 2022 in the United States, which equates to 2.7 percent of all scheduled flights

-1.44 million more flights, or 20.6 percent, were delayed

-Last year saw the highest number of cancellations since 2001, when air travel was disrupted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the skies were empty for days

-The number of consumer complaints focused solely on cancellations and delays tripled in 2022 compared to 2019

-Airlines mishandled nearly 3 million bags, wheelchairs and scooters last year

-Lost, damaged, delayed, or pilfered baggage represented problems with a higher percentage of checked bags than in 2021 or 2019.

Passenger at airport in Beijing, China.

Passenger at airport in Beijing, China. (photo via 06photo / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

All of these takeaways are based on an analysis of data from the Department of Transportation that was released a few weeks ago. For the first time in 25 years, the DOT’s year-end report did not include specific complaint data, according to the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. This is because after the Christmas weekend airline meltdown, there were “simply too many complaints for the DOT to tally,” the government agency said in its own report.

Overall, the report notes that during a year when the travel industry- and the world-was trying to return to some version of pre-pandemic normalcy, the airline industry simply was not ready or up to the task.”Nearly every major holiday and travel period last year was marred by cancellations,” says the report.

“In a nutshell, just about everything negative got worse in 2022: complaints, cancellations, delays, involuntary bumping and baggage handling-all while the number of air travelers for the full year of 2022 was below 2019 levels,” says the U.S. PIRG Education Fund analysis.

This news comes as the industry is preparing to enter what is largely anticipated to be the busiest travel season in four years, with 78 million passengers projected in April.

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