Passenger Complaints Down in 2013

This may surprise some travelers but complaints about airlines filed with the Department of Transportation dropped significantly in 2013, down a little more than 14% over the previous year.

Note: These DOT figures do not include complaints lodged directly with an airline.

Which airlines are more likely to make you happy

Airlines with Most and Fewest Complaints

Airline complaints totaled 13,168 for 2013 compared to 15,338 in 2012. The big winner, with the fewest complaints per passenger – Southwest. Scoring lowest – Frontier. Note: Southwest was second only to Delta in the number of systemwide U.S. enplanements (DOT jargon for passenger on a plane) so its top score is even more impressive.

Top five (of 16 U.S. carriers) – fewest complaints in 2013:

1. Southwest

2. Alaska

3. Delta

4. JetBlue

5. AirTran

Bottom five (of 16 U.S. carriers) – most complaints in 2013:

12. US Airways

13. American Eagle

14. American

15. United

16. Frontier

What Passengers Complained About

The most complaints were filed under the catchall category ‘flight problems’ which includes delays and cancelations. Top complaint categories:

Complaint Category 2013 Complaints 2012 Complaints
Flight problems (delays, etc.) 3,979 4,249
Baggage problems 2,133 2,182
Reservations/ticketing/boarding 1,900 2,456
Customer service 1,835 1,988
Refunds 920 1,185

The DOT offers no explanation as to what’s behind the lower complaint rate. Too bad because it might help solve one mystery – why there were fewer complaints about bags when the airlines themselves reported a slight rise in mishandled luggage. It may be that passengers are simply getting used to the occasional problem – or perhaps funneling more of their complaints directly to the airlines.


Published: February 11, 2014