Airline Consumer Complaints Decline in 2013

airplaneDespite weather related delays. airline consumer complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Aviation Consumer Protection Division during 2013 were down 14.1 percent from 2012, according to the DOT’s Air Travel Consumer Report.

The Department said it received 13,168 complaints in 2013, down from the 15,338 complaints filed in 2012. In December, the DOT received 1,114 complaints about airline service from consumers, up 23.5 percent from the 902 complaints received in December 2012, and up 47.5 percent from the total of 755 filed in November 2013.

RELATED: Airline Complaints Rise in 2012

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For the month of December, airlines reported 10 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and four tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights, DOT reports. Most of the reported tarmac delays involved flights that arrived at or departed from Chicago O’Hare Airport on Dec. 8 that were delayed due to a snowstorm. All of the reported delays are under investigation by the DOT.

The larger U.S. airlines have been required to file complete reports on their long tarmac delays for domestic flights since October 2008. Under a rule that took effect Aug. 23, 2011, all U.S. and foreign airlines operating at least one aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats must report lengthy tarmac delays at U.S. airports, DOT notes.

Also beginning Aug. 23, 2011, carriers operating international flights may not allow tarmac delays at U.S. airports to last longer than four hours without giving passengers an opportunity to deplane.  There is a separate three-hour limit on tarmac delays involving domestic flights, which went into effect in April 2010.  Exceptions to the time limits for both domestic and international flights are allowed only for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons.

Severe weather could cause or exacerbate such situations, DOT notes.

Report Highlights

On-Time Performance: The reporting carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 68.9 percent in December, down from both December 2012’s 76.6 percent mark and November 2013’s 83.5 percent.

Cancellations: The reporting carriers canceled 2.9 percent of their scheduled domestic flights in December, up from both the 1.6 percent cancellation rate posted in December 2012 and the 1.0 percent rate posted in November 2013.

Chronically Delayed Flights: At the end of December, there were seven flights that were 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.  

Causes of Flight Delays: In December, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that 7.77 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared to 4.59 percent in November; 11.25 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared to 5.78 percent in November; 8.03 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared to 4.63 percent in November; 0.95 percent by extreme weather, compared to 0.31 percent in November; and 0.05 percent for security reasons, equal to 0.05 percent in November.

Weather is a factor in both the extreme-weather category and the aviation-system category, DOT said. 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.

The percentage of late flights delayed by weather, including those reported in either the category of extreme weather or included in National Aviation System delays.  In December, 30.49 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, down from 32.81 in December 2012 and up from 27.11 percent in November.

Mishandled Baggage: The U.S. carriers reporting flight delays and mishandled baggage data posted a mishandled baggage rate of 4.55 reports per 1,000 passengers in December, up from both December 2012’s rate of 4.15 and November 2013’s rate of 2.62. For all of last year, the carriers posted a mishandled baggage rate of 3.22 per 1,000 passengers, up from 2012’s rate of 3.09.

Bumping: The report also includes airline reports of involuntary denied boarding, or bumping, for calendar year 2013 and the fourth quarter of last year. The 16 U.S. carriers who report on-time performance and mishandled baggage data posted a bumping rate of 0.92 per 10,000 passengers last year, down from the 0.99 rate posted in 2012. For the fourth quarter of last year, the carriers posted a bumping rate of 0.90 per 10,000 passengers, down from the 1.00 rate for the fourth quarter of 2012.

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