Air Travel Consumer Report: December 2022, Full Year 2022 Airline Complaint Data
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation today released its updated February 2023 Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR), which includes airline consumer complaint data for December 2022 and calendar year 2022. The previous version of this report excluded this data due to additional time needed to review and process consumer complaints.
Complaints About Airline Service
In 2022, the Department received 77,656 complaints. This is up 55.3% from the 49,991 complaints received in 2021, down 24.3% from the record high 102,560 complaints received in 2020.
Of the 77,656 complaints received in 2022, 24,647 (31.7%) concerned flight problems (including complaints about lack of reimbursements for costs associated with flight problems), 19,983 (25.7%) concerned refunds, and 12,007 (15.5%) concerned baggage.
In December 2022, DOT received 16,876 airline service complaints from consumers, the third highest total for one month on record. More than half of the complaints were against Southwest. The only months for which the Department received more complaints were April 2020 (19,856 complaints) and May 2020 (21,914). The number of complaints received in December 2022 was up 155.1% from the 6,616 complaints received in November 2022.
More than half (51.7%) of the complaints received in December 2022 were against Southwest Airlines (8,729 complaints) and concerned travel problems that stranded millions. DOT is in the initial phase of a rigorous and comprehensive investigation into this incident and has made clear to Southwest that it must provide timely refunds and reimbursements and that the Department will hold the airline accountable if it fails to do so. DOT is also probing whether Southwest engaged in unrealistic scheduling of flights which under federal law is considered an unfair and deceptive practice. DOT will leverage the full extent of its investigative and enforcement powers to ensure consumers are protected.
Of the 16,876 complaints received in December 2022, 13,912 (82.4%) were against U.S. carriers, 2,542 (15.1%) were against foreign air carriers, and 415 (2.5%) were against travel companies.
Flight problems was the highest category of the complaints received in December 2022. Of the
16,876 complaints received, 8,857 (52.5%) concerned cancellations, delays, or other deviations from airlines’ schedules. Of the 8,857 flight problems complaints, 6,250 (70.6%) were against Southwest. OACP routinely monitors airlines’ operations to ensure that airlines are not engaging in unrealistic scheduling of flights. OACP also contacts airlines with widespread cancellations or delays to make clear their obligation to promptly refund passengers who choose not to accept the alternative offered for a canceled or significantly changed flight. OACP also reminds airlines of their obligation to adhere to their customer service plan that identifies the services that the airline provides to mitigate passenger inconveniences resulting from flight cancellations and misconnections. The Department monitors airlines’ actions and reviews complaints that it receives against airlines to ensure that consumers’ rights are not violated. (Read more about airline consumers’ rights here.)
Refunds was the second highest category of the complaints received in December 2022. Of the
16,876 complaints received, 2,453 (14.5%) concerned refunds. Of the 2,453 refunds complaints, 619 (25.2%) were against Southwest. OACP continues to communicate with airlines and travel companies that receive refund complaints to ensure compliance with the refund requirements.
The Department has taken and will take enforcement action against noncompliant airlines and ticket agents as necessary. During the past two years, the Department has issued historic enforcement actions against eight airlines, which were fined nearly $12 million ($11.925 million) and collectively paid more than a billion dollars to people who were owed a refund due to canceled or significantly changed flights. The fines issued last year for consumer protection violations were the largest in the history of OACP and are part of DOT’s ongoing work to ensure Americans are treated fairly.
Finally, of the 16,876 complaints received in December 2022, 2,323 (13.8%) concerned baggage issues. Of the 2,323 baggage complaints, 1,671 (71.9%) were against U.S. carriers and 649 were against foreign air carriers (27.9%). Of the 2,323 baggage complaints, 881 (37.9%) were against Southwest. OACP has contacted the carriers that experienced significant spikes in the number of baggage complaints to obtain information on the reasons for the spikes and to ensure that airlines are complying with the baggage requirements, including reimbursing passengers for reasonable, verifiable, and actual expenses that they may incur when their bags are delayed.
Complaints About Treatment of Disabled Passengers
In 2022, the Department received 2,095 disability complaints, up 50.0% from the total of 1,397 received in 2021 and up 131.5% from the 905 received in pre-pandemic 2019.
In December 2022, the Department received a total of 218 disability-related complaints, up from both the 166 disability-related complaints received in November 2022 and the 88 complaints received in pre-pandemic December 2019.
Complaints About Discrimination
In 2022, the Department received 178 discrimination complaints – 82 complaints regarding race, four complaints regarding ancestry/ethnicity, 18 complaints regarding national origin, 13 complaints regarding color, 51 complaints regarding religion, seven complaints regarding sexual discrimination, and three complaints categorized as “other.” This is an increase of 32.8% from the total of 134 discrimination complaints filed in 2021 and an increase of 66.4% from the total of 107 discrimination complaints filed in pre-pandemic 2019.
In December 2022, the Department received 10 complaints alleging discrimination – six complaints regarding race, one complaint regarding national origin, and three complaints regarding sexual discrimination. This is down from the 11 complaints received in November 2022, but up from the nine complaints recorded in pre-pandemic December 2019.
The Department is committed to combating all forms of discrimination and will act if it finds that any carrier violated Federal anti-discrimination statutes.
The ATCR is designed to assist consumers with information on the quality of services provided by airlines. DOT remains committed to ensuring airline passengers are treated fairly and is concerned about recent flight cancellations and flight disruptions and difficulties families are experiencing in sitting together with no fees. The Department is currently investigating several domestic airlines to ensure that they are not engaging in unrealistic scheduling of flights.
DOT uses the data from the ATCR, consumer complaints, and other information it secures from the airlines to inform its enforcement activities and the adequacy of existing rules.
DOT is taking unprecedented action to ensure the traveling public is protected. Last year, DOT issued the largest fines in the history of the consumer protection office – helping to get hundreds of thousands of people hundreds of millions of dollars back. And since 2021, DOT has helped return more than $1 billion in refunds to travelers. Further, in August, Secretary Buttigieg pressed airlines to do more for passengers who had a flight canceled or delayed when it was under the airline’s control, such as covering the costs of rebooking and guaranteeing meals and hotels. Before his urging, none of the 10 largest U.S. airlines guaranteed meals or hotels when a delay or cancellation was within the airlines’ control, and only one offered free rebooking. However after Secretary Buttigieg called on airlines to improve their service and created an airline customer service dashboard to make airline commitments transparent and accessible to the public, 10 airlines now guarantee meals and free rebooking when an airline issue causes a cancellation or delay, while nine guarantee hotels. Without these commitments, Southwest would not have been required to cover the costs of hotels, meals, and travel during its recent holiday debacle that stranded millions.
Further, earlier this year, Secretary Buttigieg pressed airlines to commit to fee-free family seating. Before his urging, no airline committed to guaranteeing fee-free family seating. Now three airlines have committed to guaranteeing fee-free family seating, and DOT is pursuing a rulemaking that would require all airlines to do so. Secretary Buttigieg also submitted to Congress a legislative proposal to require that airlines provide fee-free family seating. To further assist consumers in assessing airline family seating commitments, last month, DOT rolled out a new family seating dashboard that highlights the airlines that guarantee fee-free family seating, and those that do not, making it easier for parents to avoid paying junk fees to sit with their children when they fly.
Consumers may file air travel consumer or civil rights complaints online at http://airconsumer.dot.gov/escomplaint/ConsumerForm.cfm or by voicemail at (202) 366-2220, or they may mail a complaint to the Aviation Consumer Protection Division, U.S. Department of Transportation, C-75, W96-432, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20590.
The ATCR and other aviation consumer matters of interest to the public can be found at https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer.