While On-Time Flights Are Getting Better, Customer Complaints Are Increasing


To be filed under, “Go Figure,” the airlines on-time performance in July increased from June’s 68.4% to 70.9%, but complaints filed to the Department of Transportation are up 20.3% from the same time last year. The 9,542 complaints are what you expect — flight delays, lost baggage and ticketing problems. As I reported earlier, lost luggage is on the decline.

While American and United had the most complaints in numbers, it was Frontier and Spirit Airlines that have the most per passenger, 10 and 11 per 100,000 fliers. It’s safe to say that if you fly Frontier and Spirit and you have a bad experience, you only have yourself to blame. The two airlines are routinely at the bottom of customer satisfaction surveys.

The DOT report yielded some interesting facts:

  • The on-time rate was highest in May with 80.5%. A flight landing 15 minutes or more after scheduled arrival is considered late.
  • 1.8% of flights were cancelled last month
  • Hawaiian, Alaska and Delta Airlines had the best on-time performances with 90%, 87% and 82% respectively.
  • The biggest reason for delays are the aviation system. Remember when United’s system went down last month? No bueno.

In general, flying is getting better, so why the hell are people complaining? One reason is the general increase of flyers over the past decade. Airlines for America estimates that there are 2.4 million passengers a day flying this summer, a 4.5% increase from last year. More flyers equals more opportunities to complain.

The other reason that a survey can’t account for is that people are demanding more from airlines. The cost of domestic travel is so erratic. You’re either getting a great deal or wildly over-paying for the same flight on a different day of the week. Also, if you need to travel to a non-major hub like Minneapolis, Santa Fe or San Antonio, you’re more than likely going to be paying something outrageous for multiple flights. Thus, you want your experience to be flawless. Good luck with that.

That’s why it’s important to do extensive research on flight reports and airlines or find alternate ways to get to where you need to go (fly and then take a train, bus or rent a car). Delta, JetBlue and Virgin are good. Frontier, American Eagle and SkyWest are not good.

Finally, be zen when you fly. Take deep breathes and a good book or earbuds. I know, easier said than done.

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