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Flight Cancellations at All-Time Lows; New Discrimination Data Available

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR) released today states that reporting carriers canceled 0.3 percent of their scheduled domestic flights in September 2016, the lowest for any of the 261 months with comparable records since January 1995, below the previous low of 0.4 percent in September 2015.  The cancellation rate in August 2016 was 1.4 percent.

The ATCR also introduces data about discrimination complaints that the Department has received.  The Department is making this data available for the first time to provide more transparency regarding the number of complaints that its Aviation Consumer Protection Division receives in each of the protected classes of race, ancestry, national origin, color, religion, and sex.  This comes as a result of concerns about alleged discrimination of passengers and an increase in the number of complaints filed.

From January to September 2016, the Aviation Consumer Protection Division received 67 complaints from consumers alleging discrimination by airlines – 52 complaints regarding race, eight complaints regarding national origin, one complaint regarding color, two complaints regarding religion, and four complaints regarding sex.  This is an increase from the 49 complaints alleging discrimination received during the first nine months of 2015.  In September 2016 alone, the Division received six complaints alleging discrimination – three complaints regarding race, two complaints regarding national origin, and one complaint regarding religion.  This is a decrease from both the total of eight recorded in September 2015 and the 15 recorded in August 2016.  All complaints alleging discrimination are investigated to determine if there has been a violation(s) of the passenger’s civil rights.

The consumer report also includes data on on-time performance, tarmac delays, chronically delayed flights, and the causes of flight delays filed with the Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) by the reporting carriers.  In addition, the consumer report contains a tally of aviation service complaints filed with DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division by consumers regarding a range of issues such as flight problems, baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, customer service, and disability.  The report also includes statistics on mishandled baggage reports filed by consumers with the reporting carriers, data on oversales, and information about the total number of animals that died, were injured, or were lost during air transport in September, as filed by the air carriers with the Aviation Consumer Protection Division.

On-Time Performance

The reporting carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 85.5 percent in September 2016, down from the 86.5 percent on-time rate in September 2015, but up from the 77.6 percent mark in August 2016.

Tarmac Delays

In September, airlines reported no tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and no tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights.

Chronically Delayed Flights

At the end of September, there was one flight that was chronically delayed – more than 30 minutes late more than 50 percent of the time – for two consecutive months.  There were no chronically delayed flights for three consecutive months or more.  A list of flights that were chronically delayed for a single month is available from BTS.

Causes of Flight Delays

In September, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that 14.52 percent of their flights were delayed – 4.82 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared to 6.35 percent in August; 4.69 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared to 7.65 percent in August; 4.05 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared to 6.04 percent in August; 0.43 percent by extreme weather, compared to 0.67 percent in August; and 0.02 percent for security reasons, compared to 0.04 percent in August.  In addition, 0.33 percent of flights were canceled and 0.18 percent were diverted.

Weather is a factor in both the extreme-weather category and the aviation-system category.  This includes delays due to the re-routing of flights by DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration in consultation with the carriers involved.  Weather is also a factor in delays attributed to late-arriving aircraft, although airlines do not report specific causes in that category.

BTS uses the data collected from airlines to determine the percentage of late flights delayed by weather, which includes those reported in the categories of extreme weather, late-arriving aircraft, and National Aviation System delays.  In September, 29.25 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, up from 27.84 percent in September 2015, but down from 33.80 percent in August 2016.

Detailed information on flight delays and their causes is available from BTS.

Mishandled Baggage

The U.S. carriers reporting mishandled baggage data posted a mishandled baggage rate of 2.23 reports per 1,000 passengers in September, an improvement over both September 2015’s rate of 2.41 and August 2016’s rate of 3.15.  For the first nine months of this year, the carriers posted a mishandled baggage rate of 2.75 reports per 1,000 passengers, an improvement over the 3.19 rate recorded during the first nine months of 2015.


The report also includes reports of involuntary denied boarding, or bumping, for the third quarter and first nine months of this year.  The 12 U.S. carriers who report denied boarding data posted a bumping rate of 0.68 per 10,000 passengers for the quarter, up slightly from the 0.67 rate for the third quarter of 2015.  For the first nine months of this year, the carriers had a bumping rate of 0.64 per 10,000 passengers, an improvement over the rate of 0.74 posted during the first nine months of 2015. 

Incidents Involving Animals

In September, carriers reported five incidents involving the death, injury, or loss of an animal while traveling by air, down from the nine reports filed in September 2015, but up from the four reports filed in August 2016.  September’s incidents involved the deaths of three animals and injuries to two other animals.

Complaints About Airline Service

In September, the Department received 1,303 complaints about airline service from consumers, down 29.9 percent from the total of 1,858 filed in September 2015 and down 42.1 percent from the 2,250 received in August 2016.  For the first nine months of this year, the Department received 13,888 consumer complaints, down 12.0 percent from the total of 15,777 filed during the first nine months of 2015.

Complaints About Treatment of Disabled Passengers

The report also contains a tabulation of complaints filed with DOT in September against airlines regarding the treatment of passengers with disabilities.  The Department received a total of 61 disability-related complaints in September, down from both the 116 complaints received in September 2015 and the 96 complaints received in August 2016.  For the first nine months of this year, the Department received 651 disability-related complaints, down 2.1 percent from the total of 665 filed during the first nine months of 2015.

Consumers may file air travel civil rights and service complaints on the web at or by voice mail at (202) 366-2220 or by TTY at (202) 366-0511.  They may also 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.

Consumers who want on-time performance data for specific flights should call their airline’s reservation number or their travel agent.  This information is available on the computerized reservation systems used by these agents.  The information is also available on the appropriate carrier’s website.

The Air Travel Consumer Report can be found on DOT’s website at




November 2016

Based on Data Filed with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics by the 12 Reporting Carriers and Tarmac Data Filed by All Carriers


     85.5 percent on-time arrivals

Highest On-Time Arrival Rates

  1. Hawaiian Airlines – 91.3 percent
  2. Alaska Airlines – 90.3 percent
  3. Delta Air Lines – 90.2 percent

Lowest On-Time Arrival Rates  

  1. Frontier Airlines – 71.7 percent
  2. JetBlue Airways – 78.7 percent
  3. Virgin America – 82.3 percent

Domestic Flights with Longest Tarmac Delays Exceeding Three Hours

* There were no domestic flights in September with tarmac delays exceeding three hours.

International Flights with Longest Tarmac Delays Exceeding Four Hours

* There were no international flights in September with tarmac delays exceeding four hours.

Highest Rates of Canceled Flights   

  1. ExpressJet Airlines – 0.8 percent
  2. Frontier Airlines – 0.5 percent
  3. JetBlue Airways – 0.5 percent

Lowest Rates of Canceled Flights

  1. Delta Air Lines – 0.0 percent*
  2. Hawaiian Airlines – 0.1 percent
  3. Alaska Airlines – 0.2 percent

*Delta Air Lines canceled 10 flights in September.