In record month for complaints, airline grievances take off


The number of consumer complaints soared to an all-time high in June, with the airline industry providing most of the lift.

Airlines dominated our expanded top 25 list of grievances, with American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and Spirit Airlines claiming the top five slots.

Our number of cases rose to a record 364, up almost 19 percent from May and up 27 percent from the same period a year ago.

American Airlines, with 30 cases, had been challenged by United Airlines last month, but it showed its dominance in June by outpacing its next closest rival by a comfortable margin. For the first half of 2017, American has built an impressive lead, with 163 cases, or about 9 percent of our total grievances.

As a reminder, we typically receive only the most difficult cases through our help form. 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.

Here’s what June looked like:

Rank Top 25 Companies Total Complaints Percent
1 American Airlines 30 8.24%
2 United Airlines 19 5.22%
3 Delta Air Lines 11 3.02%
4 Southwest Airlines 7 1.92%
5 Spirit Airlines 7 1.92%
6 Expedia 6 1.65%
7 Hertz Rent a Car 6 1.65%
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: 364
Last Month: 295
Percent Difference: 18.96%
Total Cases June 2016: 263
Percent Difference Year Ago: 27.75%
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Here’s May:


Rank Top 25 Companies Total Complaints Percent
1 American Airlines 26 8.81%
2 United Airlines 20 6.78%
3 Airbnb 8 2.71%
4 Delta Air Lines 8 2.71%
5 Enterprise Rent-A-Car 7 2.37%
6 Expedia 7 2.37%
7 Spirit Airlines 7 2.37%
8 AT&T 6 2.03%
9 Holiday Inn (IHG) 6 2.03%
10 Allegiant Air 5 1.69%
11 Avis Car Rental 4 1.36%
12 British Airways 4 1.36%
13 Princess Cruises 4 1.36%
14 Southwest Airlines 4 1.36%
15 Turkish Airlines 4 1.36%
16 American Express 3 1.02%
17 Budget Car Rental (Avis) 3 1.02%
18 Hertz Rent a Car 3 1.02%
19 HomeAway (Expedia) 3 1.02%
20 Oceania Cruises 3 1.02%
21 Sears Holdings 3 1.02%
22 Trip Mate 3 1.02%
23 Aer Lingus 2 0.68%
24 Air Canada 2 0.68%
25 Air France (Air France-KLM Group) 2 0.68%
Total Cases: 295
Last Month: 308
Percent Difference: -4.41%
Total Cases May 2016: 319
Percent Difference Year Ago: -8.14%

And here are our numbers for the first half of 2017:

Rank Top 25 Companies Total Complaints Percent
1 American Airlines 163 8.72%
2 United Airlines 117 6.26%
3 Delta Air Lines 58 3.10%
4 Enterprise Rent-A-Car 40 2.14%
5 Expedia 35 1.87%
6 British Airways 32 1.71%
7 Airbnb 29 1.55%
8 Spirit Airlines 26 1.39%
9 AT&T 25 1.34%
10 Southwest Airlines 24 1.28%
11 Hertz Rent a Car 22 1.18%
12 Lufthansa 22 1.18%
13 Amazon.com 21 1.12%
14 Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) 19 1.02%
15 Air Berlin 18 0.96%
16 Turkish Airlines 18 0.96%
17 Avis Car Rental 17 0.91%
18 WOW Air 14 0.75%
19 Air Canada 13 0.70%
20 Justfly.com 13 0.70%
21 Holiday Inn (IHG) 12 0.64%
22 Budget Car Rental (Avis) 11 0.59%
23 Carnival 11 0.59%
24 Hotels.com (Expedia) 11 0.59%
25 Orbitz (Expedia) 11 0.59%
Total Cases: 1870
Last Half: 1824
Percent Difference: 2.46%
Total Cases First Half 2016: 1712
Percent Difference Year Ago: 8.45%
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What do these numbers mean?

✓ Even when you adjust for American Airlines’ size (factoring enplanements) it’s still a laggard in the customer service department. It shows no signs of wanting to — or being able to — relinquish its title.

✓ I continue to be surprised by Expedia’s numbers. Its complaints are trending downward (#6 last month and May), which seems to suggest it’s doing something right. What? I have no idea.

✓ Non-travel companies, including AT&T, Sears and LG had a respectable showing in the most recent lists. I predict we’ll be seeing more non-travel cases very soon. Details to follow …

One final note. We’ve made some minor adjustments to the way we count our cases. We can now see our cases in real time, which allows us to adjust our coverage and pay attention to the problem companies. And you know who those are.

As always, if you have a problem — any problem — please don’t forget to file a complaint with us so that we can count it. Cue the “A-Team” theme song.

 


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.

  • cscasi

    So, let’s see. How many flights a day does American Airlines operate? On average, how many passengers a day does it transport on those flights? Now, out of that number of passengers per month, we extrapolate things down to one complaint per day for how many thousands of passengers transported? That’s an epidemic!

  • Carchar

    True, but there are also many complaints that go unmade.

  • greg watson

    Do these calculations for us……………………maybe for the top 10 complained against airlines, then you would have made your point !

  • BubbaJoe123

    Once again, the numbers really don’t make sense. The 1st half 2017 total for American is listed as 163, but if you add up the monthlies, you get 188. The United and Delta figures also don’t match.

    For June, it lists 364 cases, but the enumerated column (which covers everything with at least three complaints) adds up to 153. So, that would mean that there were 211 additional complaints across at least 105 different targets. Really seems like an unlikely number of targets, given the huge number of travel providers that are already listed.

  • BubbaJoe123

    I do them periodically. Complaint rate for AA is about 1 per 500k passengers. If you adjust for pax volume, then Spirit is the worst, by far. AA look a bit better vs UA and SW, a bit worse vs. DL. See chart below.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/99d672b0fc3e7abe00a9263f0999fe514b0ce2ca3baba566fef4daaf5d24f03b.jpg

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