In another record month, American Airlines complaints double


If you’ve been watching our monthly complaint numbers and wondering, “How much worse can it get for American Airlines?,” here’s your answer: much worse.

Grievances against the world’s largest airline doubled to 60 in July, a record month for consumer complaints. Our number of cases skyrocketed to an all-time high of 438 in July, up more than 32 percent from the previous month and nearly 28 percent from the same period a year ago. For the year, we’re up about 11 percent, to 2,309 cases.

A quick reminder, to those of you who will repeat the obvious fact that American Airlines is the world’s largest airline. (Didn’t I just say that?) We only count cases received through our help form. These are the most difficult, intractable problems, and the grievances represent a tiny fraction of the overall problems with a company. Often, consumers come to us when they’ve tried everything, up to and including litigation.

We don’t weight the complaints numbers against enplanements or sales volume, but leave that to the mathematicians in the comments.

Here are last month’s numbers:

July 2017
Rank Top 25 Companies Total Complaints Percent
1 American Airlines 60 13.70%
2 United Airlines 16 3.65%
3 British Airways 13 2.97%
4 Delta Air Lines 11 2.51%
5 Expedia 10 2.28%
6 Hertz Rent a Car 9 2.05%
7 Airberlin 7 1.60%
8 Amazon.com 7 1.60%
9 Airbnb 6 1.37%
10 American Express 6 1.37%
11 Norwegian (Norwegian Air Shuttle) 6 1.37%
12 Spirit Airlines 6 1.37%
13 Enterprise Rent-A-Car 5 1.14%
14 Lufthansa 5 1.14%
15 Marriott 5 1.14%
16 Allianz 4 0.91%
17 Justfly.com 4 0.91%
18 Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) 4 0.91%
19 Orbitz (Expedia) 4 0.91%
20 Southwest Airlines 4 0.91%
21 Air Canada 3 0.68%
22 Booking.com (Priceline) 3 0.68%
23 CheapOair (Fareportal) 3 0.68%
24 Dollar Rent A Car (Hertz) 3 0.68%
25 Facebook 3 0.68%
Total Cases: 438
Last Month: 295
Percent Difference: 32.65%
Total Cases July 2016: 316
Percent Difference Year Ago: 27.85%
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Here’s the previous month:


June 2017
Rank Top 25 Companies Total Complaints Percent
1 American Airlines 30 8.22%
2 United Airlines 19 5.21%
3 Delta Air Lines 11 3.01%
4 Spirit Airlines 8 2.19%
5 Southwest Airlines 7 1.92%
6 Expedia 6 1.64%
7 Hertz Rent a Car 6 1.64%
8 Alitalia 5 1.37%
9 British Airways 5 1.37%
10 Sears Holdings 5 1.37%
11 Air Berlin 4 1.10%
12 Airbnb 4 1.10%
13 Alaska Airlines 4 1.10%
14 Carnival 4 1.10%
15 Hotels.com (Expedia) 4 1.10%
16 LG Electronics 4 1.10%
17 Orbitz (Expedia) 4 1.10%
18 AT&T 3 0.82%
19 Amazon.com 3 0.82%
20 Budget Car Rental (Avis) 3 0.82%
21 CheapOair (Fareportal) 3 0.82%
22 DirecTV (AT&T) 3 0.82%
23 Enterprise Rent-A-Car 3 0.82%
24 Groupon 3 0.82%
25 Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) 3 0.82%
Total Cases: 365
Last Month: 295
Percent Difference: 19.18%
Total Cases June 2016: 263
Percent Difference Year Ago: 27.95%

And here are our year-to-date numbers:

January-July 2017
Rank Top 25 Companies Total Complaints Percent
1 American Airlines 251 10.87%
2 United Airlines 144 6.24%
3 Delta Air Lines 69 2.99%
4 Expedia 50 2.17%
5 British Airways 49 2.12%
6 Enterprise Rent-A-Car 45 1.95%
7 Airbnb 37 1.60%
8 Southwest Airlines 36 1.56%
9 Spirit Airlines 36 1.56%
10 AT&T 32 1.39%
11 Amazon.com 32 1.39%
12 Hertz Rent a Car 31 1.34%
13 Lufthansa 29 1.26%
14 Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) 23 1.00%
15 Air Berlin 20 0.87%
16 Air Canada 19 0.82%
17 Turkish Airlines 19 0.82%
18 Avis Car Rental 17 0.74%
19 Justfly.com 17 0.74%
20 WOW Air 17 0.74%
21 American Express 16 0.69%
22 Orbitz (Expedia) 15 0.65%
23 Hotels.com (Expedia) 14 0.61%
24 Norwegian (Norwegian Air Shuttle) 14 0.61%
25 Carnival 13 0.56%
Total Cases 1/1/2017-8/1/2017: 2,309
Total Cases 1/1/2016-8/1/2016: 2,043
Percent Difference: 11.52%

What do these numbers mean?

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✓ Could we talk about American for just a little longer? How is it possible for one airline to dominate our rankings for so long? What is it about American’s service that makes it such a complaint magnet? I’d really love to know. And please don’t bring up the merger. That’s ancient history.

✓ JustFly.com — hello? They weren’t even on our radar last year. Now they’re at number 19. Can anyone explain that?

✓ Non-travel companies continue to make a respectable showing on our list. That’s about to change. I have a big announcement to make this month. I can hardly contain myself.

Some of you noted last month, and will continue to make comments this month, that the way we’re counting cases has changed. We have a core list of about 100 companies we follow and our response team revises it regularly. So you’ll find that regional or local businesses won’t show up here because of our methodology.

As always, if you have a problem — any problem — please don’t forget to file a complaint with us so that we can help you. And, so we can count it.


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • Jeff W.

    If I could make a change in the way you count complaints against companies, I would award “partial” credits. For example, the story you highlighted earlier today regarding the person who received only one refund from American when the wife canceled the flights because of her illness. Since it looks like she may have canceled the flights by invoking her credit card protection / travel insurance through Chase, it was hard to determine who was at fault. Someone was, but was it Chase or American? So maybe each company should get a .5 on that? Or double count one for each company. Maybe you already do that, it is not clear.

  • Travelnut

    Re not comparing the number of complaints against some denominator (enplanements, passenger counts, or similar), you do realize it is kind of misleading, right? I will say that a jump month to month from 30 to 60 is probably significant, but that can also be affected by a summertime increase in flights. I’m a data analyst so these kinds of things bug me.

  • Annie M

    I am surprised that Sixt Car rentals hasn’t made their debit here yet.

  • Noah Kimmel

    Let alone the lurking variables of seasonality that doesn’t just affect enplanements, but passenger mix – more leisure travelers, and typically worse weather. If delays/cancellations go up, more than likely complaints will too.

    Not sure why AA seems to be disproportionately affected, though. Don’t recall any big meltdowns and havent combed through the forum to see if there are any related incidents.

  • Blamona

    Shouldn’t Expedia/orbitz/hotels.com count as 1? Same company

  • KanExplore

    Another factor could be that as the website’s readership and reputation grows (I don’t know for sure that is true but it seems possible) there becomes a wider pool of possible complainers who see this as a possible avenue for getting results. That would’t explain American’s position specifically, but could explain the overall growth in numbers.

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