Air Travel Consumer Report: January 2023 Airline Complaint Data
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation today released its updated March 2023 Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR), which includes airline consumer complaint data for January 2023. 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 January 2023, DOT received 10,822 airline service complaints from consumers, down 35.9% from the 16,876 complaints received in December 2022, but up 111.7 % from the 5,113 complaints received in January 2022.
Almost a quarter (23.4%) of the complaints received in January 2023 were against Southwest Airlines (2,534 complaints) and concerned the 2022 holiday travel problems that stranded millions. DOT is conducting 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 10,822 complaints received in January 2023, 7,754 (71.7%) were against U.S. carriers, 2,596 (24.0%) were against foreign air carriers, and 469 (4.3%) were against travel companies.
Flight problems was the highest category of the complaints received in January 2023. Of the
10,822 complaints received, 4,054 (37.5%) concerned cancellations, delays, or other deviations from airlines’ schedules. Of the 4,054 flight problems complaints, 1,536 (37.9%) were against Southwest. DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) routinely monitors airlines’ operations to ensure that airlines are not engaging in unrealistic scheduling of flights. The Department is currently investigating several domestic airlines for 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 January 2023. Of the
10,822 complaints received, 2,240 (20.7%) concerned refunds. Of the 2,240 refunds complaints, 379 (16.9%) 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 refunds 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 10,822 complaints received in January 2023, 1,973 (18.2%) concerned baggage issues. Of the 1,973 baggage complaints, 1,184 (60%) were against U.S. carriers and 789 were against foreign air carriers (40%). Of the 1,973 baggage complaints, 379 (19.2%) 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 Passengers with Disabilities
In January 2023, the Department received a total of 222 disability-related complaints, up from both the 218 disability-related complaints received in December 2022 and the 144 complaints received in January 2022.
Complaints About Discrimination
In January 2023, the Department received 26 complaints alleging discrimination – 11 complaints regarding race, one complaint regarding ancestry/ethnicity, eight complaints regarding national origin, two complaints regarding color, three complaints regarding religion, and one complaint regarding sexual discrimination. This is up from both the 10 complaints received in December 2022 and from the five complaints recorded in January 2022.
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.
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.
Last week, DOT announced plans to launch a new rulemaking that is aimed at requiring airlines to provide compensation and cover expenses for amenities such as meals, hotels, and rebooking when airlines are responsible for stranding passengers. After a two-year DOT push to improve the passenger experience, the 10 largest airlines guarantee meals and free rebooking on the same airline and nine guarantee hotel accommodations as part of the Department’s Airline Customer Service Dashboard. DOT expanded the dashboard last week at FlightRights.Gov to highlight which airlines currently offer cash compensation, provide travel credits or vouchers, or award frequent flyer miles when they cause flight delays or cancellations. DOT’s planned rulemaking would, if adopted in final, make passenger compensation and amenities mandatory so that travelers are taken care of when airlines cause flight disruptions.
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.