The number of airline service complaints rose 17.9 percent in 2014 to 15,532, up from 13,176 a year before, according to figures released by the Department of Transportation (DOT) today.
Consumers haven’t been this unhappy with airlines since 2001, when they filed 16,508 complaints with the government.
American Airlines was the most complained-about air carrier, with a total of 3,083 complaints. It was followed by United Airlines (2,452 complaints) Spirit Airlines (935) and Delta Air Lines (926).
Grievances filed with the DOT are thought to represent only a fraction of the actual service complaints against an airline. The record for government complaints was set in 1987, when 44,845 passengers wrote to the government, upset about declining airline service in the wake of airline deregulation.
American’s ascent to the most-complained-about airline is no surprise. In 2013, the top airline was United, with 1,935 grievances. But a combined American and US Airways would have generated 2,537 complaints. The two airlines were not merged yet.
United narrowly edged out American with the most complaints per enplanements (2.71 per 100,000 versus 2.12). Frontier Airlines was the most-complained about carrier overall, with 3.91 complaints per 100,000 boardings. Spirit was too small to be counted in the DOT statistics.
Airlines lost more luggage.
For all of last year, airlines posted a mishandled baggage rate of 3.62 per 1,000 passengers, up from 2013’s rate of 3.22. The rate is based on the total number of reports each carrier received from passengers concerning lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered baggage. United Airlines had the highest mishandled baggage rate among the major airlines (5.20) and Virgin America had the lowest (1.18).
More passengers got bumped.
The 14 U.S. carriers who report on-time performance and mishandled baggage data posted an involuntary denied-boarding rate of 0.92 per 10,000 passengers last year, up from the 0.90 rate posted in 2013. Frontier Airlines was the likeliest of the non-regional airlines to bump a passenger (1.37 per 10,000 passengers). The least likely? Virgin America (0.09).
Tarmac delays are almost extinct.
The DOT reported 30 domestic flights with tarmac delays longer than three hours and nine international flights with tarmac delays longer than four hours at U.S. airports for the year. There were no long domestic or international tarmac delays in December. “These tarmac delay rules are meant to protect passengers and it appears that the airlines have gotten the message,” said DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We have aggressively enforced, and will continue to aggressively enforce, our tarmac delay rules to ensure that carriers have adequate resources, such as staff and equipment, to minimize passengers’ exposure to lengthy tarmac delays, and that passengers are treated with respect before, during, and after their flights.”
With the exception of tarmac delays, the airline industry received mostly failing grades in its 2014 report card. Here’s hoping 2015 will be better.