Airline Service Complaints Up Despite Performance Gains

travelerDespite reported gains in airline performance, consumer complaints about airline service spiked 46.5 percent from the 1,128 complaints filed in June 2011, the Air Travel Consumer Report from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) says.

In June, the DOT reports it received 1,653 complaints about airline service from consumers, up 46.5 percent from the 1,128 complaints filed in June 2011, and up 31.2 percent from the 1,260 received in May 2012.

For the first six months of this year, passengers filed 6,721 complaints, up 24.0 percent from the total of 5,421 received during January-June 2011, DOT reports.

Consumers benefited in other performance areas, however, as the nation’s largest airlines set records during the first half  for on-time performance, the fewest long tarmac delays, and the lowest rates of canceled flights and mishandled baggage.

The DOT said the 15 largest U.S. airlines posted an 83.7 percent on-time arrival rate during the first six months of 2012, the highest mark for any January-June period in the past 18 years. The previous high was 82.8 percent in January-June 2003, DOT reports. The 1.1 percent cancellation rate for the six-month period also was the lowest rate for the past 18 years, with the previous low being the 1.3 percent mark set in January-June 2002.

The DOT noted there were only four tarmac delays longer than three hours on U.S. domestic flights between January and June this year. There were a total of 35 tarmac delays for domestic flights between January and June in 2011, the first full year the domestic tarmac delay limit was in effect.

In contrast, there were 586 tarmac delays of more than three hours between January and June of 2009, the year before the tarmac delay rule went into effect. Since August 2011, U.S. and foreign airlines operating international flights at U.S. airports have been subject to a four-hour tarmac delay limit, DOT notes.

The carriers also posted their lowest rate of mishandled baggage for a January-June period since this data was first reported in September 1987. The record of 2.97 reports of mishandled baggage per 1,000 passengers improved on the previous January-June record low of 3.60 set last year.

“Our new airline consumer rules and our vigorous oversight of the aviation industry are holding airlines accountable to their customers,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “We will continue to help make air travel as hassle-free as possible.”

The reporting carriers also posted an on-time arrival rate in June of 80.7 percent, an improvement over June 2011’s 76.9 percent mark but down from May 2012’s 83.4 percent, DOT says. The reporting carriers canceled 1.1 percent of their scheduled domestic flights in June, down from the 1.8 percent cancellation rate posted in June 2011 but up from May 2012’s cancellation rate of 0.9 percent.

At the end of June, there were 10 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.

In June, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that 4.82 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared to 4.75 percent in May; 6.98 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared to 5.56 percent in May; 5.62 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared to 4.59 percent in May; 0.50 percent by extreme weather, compared to 0.58 percent in May and 0.04 percent for security reasons, compared to 0.03 percent in May.

Weather is a factor in both the extreme-weather category and the aviation-system category, DOT says. 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 U.S. carriers reporting flight delays and mishandled baggage data posted a mishandled baggage rate of 3.35 reports per 1,000 passengers in June, down from June 2011’s rate of 3.59 but higher than May 2012’s rate of 2.77.

The report also includes data on involuntary denied boarding, or bumping, for the second quarter and first six months of this year. The  carriers who reported denied boarding data posted a bumping rate of 1.05 per 10,000 passengers for the quarter, up from the 0.77 rate for the second quarter of 2011.

For the first six months of this year, the carriers had a bumping rate of 0.98 per 10,000 passengers, up from the rate of 0.80 rate posted during the first six months of 2011.