Top Airline Complaints for 2011 – Which Airlines Get the Most Complaints?

Top Airline Complaints of 2011

While finding a cheap ticket can be pretty tough these days, finding an unhappy passenger is not.

According to USA Today, the number of complaints about airline services from customers rose 33% in May 2011 compared to May 2010.

And the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation statistics said it received nearly 21% more complaints in May of this year than in April.

So what are all these complaints about? And why are passengers so unhappy?

Archive: Top Airline Complaints for 2011

Types of Complaints:

Of the 1,062 complaints received in May:

  • 383 were related to delays, cancellations and missed connections (compared with 226 in May 2010)
  • 120 were about customer service (compared with 87 in May 2010)
  • 143 were about mishandled baggage (compared with 135 in May 2010)

The Airlines:

  • American Airlines – 147 complaints (compared with 120 in May 2010)
  • Delta Airlines – 107 complaints (compared with 148 in May 2010)
  • United Airlines – 101 complaints (compared with 79 in May 2010)
  • Continental – 72 complaints (compared with 50 in May 2010)

Steve Lott, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, told USA Today that the number of complaints per 100,000 enplanements was 1.29, “a very small number.”

But a total of 55 million people boarded planes in May, which amounts to 710 complaints.

Why the Increase?

One of the major factors contributing to the increase in complaints about cancellations, delays and missed connections was a spate of bad weather in May.

Severe thunderstorms at hub airports contributed to systemwide delays and decreased the on-time arrival rate for major airlines from 79.9 percent in May 2010 to 77.1 percent in May of this year.

Archive: 5 Tips for Flight Delays: How to Get on the Next Flight

“Many U.S. airlines were challenged by extreme weather during May that made conditions unsafe to fly and led to a higher rate of canceled flights,” Lott told USA Today.

But weather is not the only factor at play here. While it is difficult to pinpoint why the number of customer complaints has increased, there could be several possible answers.

  • As the cost of flying increases – between rising fares and fees for baggage and services – passengers might have higher expectations for the service they are receiving. Therefore, when they find the service lacking, they might be more apt to complain.
  • The DOT’s statistics on customer complaints are based on consumer complaints filed to the DOT regarding a specific airline or problem. These are not statistics on the number of complaints footed by the airlines themselves. As more airlines ask consumers to complain in writing or via e-mail, rather than talking to a customer service representative in person or on the phone, more passengers could be taking their complaints to the DOT than has happened in the past.
  • This could also be true for passengers who were dissatisfied with the airline’s response to their complaints.

Archive: Top 7 Things That Can Get You Kicked Off a Plane

What is an Airline (and Consumer) to Do?

When it comes to customer complaints, a little patience and respect can go a long way for both sides.

Airlines should make lodging complaints as easy and straightforward as possible for consumers – who tend only to get more frustrated when they have to hunt down a phone number or e-mail address to file a complaint.

Whoever is in charge of handling customer complaints should be courteous and empathetic to the customer, no matter how rude the customer is. A little kindness can go a long way, not to mention waiving a baggage fee or upgrading a seat here and there in order to gain favor.

To that end, customers could stand to be more understanding as well. With the economic downturn, most people know what it is like to do more business with fewer resources. Airlines are no different; forced to help the same number of customers with less personnel means more problems are inevitable.

Passengers might find better results if they took a deep breath and approached airline representatives with patience and respect, no matter how frustrated they are.


Published: July 25, 2011