No reals surprises in the U.S. PIRG report on airline complaints to the Department of Transportation. Spirit generated the most complaints – and this was true for every year over the past five years – while Southwest generated the fewest complaints – and it too has held this position year after year.
Complaints – Winners and Losers
The following chart shows rankings from 2013 only, but note that both Spirit and Southwest have held their positions each year since 2009.
AIRLINE COMPLAINTS – 2013
Rankings from Worst to Best
|1. Spirit||8. SkyWest|
|2. Frontier||9. AirTran|
|3. United||10. JetBlue|
|4. American||11. Delta|
|5. American Eagle||12. Alaska|
|6. US Airways||13. Southwest|
Complaints per Passenger
Overall, the number of complaints is relatively small (and dropping), calculated at a rate of per 100,000 passengers but the differences in complaint levels are obvious. For example, Spirit’s rate of complaints in 2013 was 9.440 per 100,000 passengers, while Southwest had only 0.344 complaints. In other words, Spirit had nearly three times as many complaints as Southwest.
Why Passengers Complain
According to the report, “Flight problems such as delays and cancellations were the top grievance for travelers, while other top complaint categories included baggage, customer service, and reservations/ticketing/boarding.”
In an interview with USA Today, Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza responded to his carrier’s dismal ranking by noting correctly that the Department of Transportation’s complaint rate for every airline is – overall – relatively low (though it should be noted DOT statistics do not include complaints made directly to the airlines). Baldanza went on to suggest that cheap flights trumps all: “Offering our low fares requires doing some things that some people complain about – more seats on our planes with a little less legroom, no Wi-Fi or video screens, and no refunds without insurance.” Baldanza added this helps keep fares low and it’s a trade-off most of their passengers are willing to go along with – and indeed, Spirit is by most accounts a successful enterprise.
Perhaps it all comes down to, you get what you pay for – and if you don’t like it, fly another airline.