Air Travel Consumer Report: March 2023, April 2023, May 2023, and 1st Quarter 2023 Airline Complaint Data
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today released consumer complaint data about air travel for March 2023, April 2023, May 2023, and the first quarter of 2023.
The release of air travel service complaint data in the Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR) has been delayed primarily because of the continued high volume of complaints against airlines and ticket agents received by the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) and the time needed to review and process these consumer complaints. The Department has been examining how best to review and process the consumer complaints received to avoid reporting delays. This review led the Department to invest in updating its consumer complaint application system, which was developed in 1996, to bring it up to current technology standards. It also led the Department to seek a Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) investment to further enhance OACP’s consumer complaint and case tracking application system to improve the customer experience for the tens of thousands of consumers who use the system each year and enable OACP to more effectively engage in oversight of the airline industry. On September 29, 2023, the TMF announced that it was awarding DOT an $8 million grant towards this effort.
The Department anticipates that its new modernized system will be operational in January 2024 and will be further enhanced with TMF funding in the coming years. In the interim, given the continued high volume of air travel service complaints concerning airlines and ticket agents, the Department has revised how it processes consumer complaints received from June 1 to December 31, 2023. The Department will revise the ATCR to display consumer submissions (complaints, inquiries, and opinions) as opposed to complaints for this period. The Department will continue to display civil rights complaints in the ATCR in a similar manner as before.
Complaints About Airline Service
March 2023 and 1st Quarter 2023
In March 2023, DOT received 7,492 airline service complaints from consumers, up 12.8% from the 6,644 complaints received in February 2023 and up 70.1% from the 4,404 complaints received in March 2022.
For the first quarter of this year, the Department received 24,965 complaints, up 88.4% from the 13,252 filed during the first quarter of 2022.
In April 2023, DOT received 6,712 airline service complaints from consumers, up 32.0% from the 5,084 complaints received in April 2022.
In May 2023, DOT received 6,465 airline service complaints from consumers, up 48.7% from the 4,347 complaints received in May 2022.
OACP routinely monitors airlines’ operations to ensure that airlines are not engaging in unrealistic scheduling of flights and is currently investigating several domestic airlines for unrealistic scheduling of flights. OACP also regularly reminds airlines of their obligation to provide prompt refunds when flights are significantly delayed or cancelled and passengers choose not to accept the alternative offered, as well as 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. OACP has taken and will take enforcement action against noncompliant airlines and ticket agents as necessary. This year, DOT has already issued the largest fines in the history of the consumer protection office primarily based on complaints received. Since the pandemic began, the Department has helped return more than $2.5 billion in refunds to travelers. (Read more about airline consumers’ rights here.)
Complaints About Treatment of Passengers with Disabilities
March 2023 and 1st Quarter 2023
In March 2023, the Department received a total of 224 disability-related complaints, up from both the 188 disability-related complaints received in February 2023 and the 120 complaints received in March 2022.
For the first quarter of this year, the Department received 636 disability-related complaints, up from the total of 380 filed during the first quarter of 2022.
In April 2023, the Department received a total of 214 disability-related complaints, up from the total of 163 complaints received in April 2022.
In May 2023, the Department received a total of 221 disability-related complaints, up from the total of 156 complaints received in May 2022.
The Department investigates each disability complaint that it receives against airlines. The increase in the number of disability complaints received in 2023 over the number received in 2022 is similar to the increase in the number of overall complaints received in 2022 over the number received in 2023. For example, there was a 32.1% increase in disability and total complaints in April 2023 compared to April 2022. There was a 41.6% increase in disability complaints in May 2023 compared to May 2022 and a 48.7% increase in total complaints in May 2022 compared to May 2023. There was a 86.7% increase in disability complaints in March 2023 compared to March 2022 and a 70.1% increase in total complaints in March 2023 compared to March 2023.
DOT has taken a number of steps to improve transportation for individuals with disabilities.
- To address many of the significant barriers and challenges experienced by passengers who use wheelchairs, the Department has initiated a rulemaking proposing, among other actions, to make it an automatic violation of the Department’s ACAA regulations for airlines to mishandle a passenger’s wheelchair. This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would also enhance training requirements for airline personnel who provide hands-on transfer assistance to passengers and handle wheelchairs. This rulemaking is currently under review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
- In July 2023, DOT finalized a rule which requires airlines to make lavatories on new, single-aisle aircraft more accessible. This final rule is an outgrowth of an agreement reached by the ACCESS Advisory Committee, which included representatives of airlines, persons with disabilities, and other interested parties. Under this final rule, airlines are required to take various steps to improve the accessibility of these lavatories short of increasing their size in the short term. In addition, in the long term, airlines are required to provide an accessible lavatory that is large enough to permit a passenger with a disability and attendant, both equivalent in size to a 95th percentile male, to approach, enter, and maneuver within as necessary to use the aircraft lavatory.
- On July 11, 2023, Secretary Buttigieg delivered remarks at the White House celebrating the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and urged Congress to pass legislation allowing passengers with disabilities to pursue legal action against airlines that violate their rights.
- DOT has begun laying the groundwork for a potential rule that would allow passengers to stay in their own wheelchairs when they fly.
Complaints About Discrimination
March 2023 and 1st Quarter 2023
In March 2023, the Department received eight complaints alleging discrimination – five complaints regarding race and three complaints regarding national origin. This is down from both the 20 complaints received in February 2023 and the 19 complaints recorded in March 2022.
For the first quarter of this year, the Department received 54 discrimination complaints – 24 complaints regarding race, one complaint regarding ancestry/ethnicity, 16 complaints regarding national origin, five complaints regarding color, three complaints regarding religion, and five complaints regarding sexual discrimination. This is up from the total of 27 filed during the first quarter of 2022.
In April 2023, the Department received eight complaints alleging discrimination – three complaints regarding race, four complaints regarding national origin, and one complaint regarding color. This is equal to the eight complaints received in April 2022.
In May 2023, the Department received 27 complaints alleging discrimination – 10 complaints regarding race, four complaints regarding national origin, six complaints regarding color, three complaints regarding religion, and four complaints regarding sexual discrimination. This is down from the 52 complaints received in May 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.
The Department is also enhancing consumer protections through rulemakings and other activities. After a two-year DOT push to improve the passenger experience, the 10 largest airlines now guarantee meals and free rebooking on the same airline and nine guarantee hotel accommodations when a cancellation or delay is caused by the airline. DOT expanded the user-friendly dashboard at FlightRights.Gov to highlight which airlines, if any, offer cash compensation, provide travel credits or vouchers, or award frequent flyer miles when they cause flight delays or cancellations. In May, DOT announced plans to launch a new rulemaking that would propose to make passenger compensation and amenities mandatory so that travelers are taken care of when airlines cause flight delays or cancellations, such as staffing issues or mechanical problems.
Further, earlier this year, President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg pressed airlines to commit to fee-free family seating. Before their urging, no airline committed to guaranteeing fee-free family seating. Now four 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, in March 2023, 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 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.