American Airlines still tops our complaints list, but here comes United

Our May complaint numbers are out and they show a tightening race between American Airlines, which has received them most complaints since we’ve been keeping lists, and United Airlines.

We counted 286 cases in May, down from 291 in April. The numbers were affected by a system glitch that deleted three days of cases. Adjusted for the system outage, our numbers would be at April levels or slightly higher.

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United Airlines, of course, is still reeling from the David Dao dragging incident, a media spectacle that more than doubled its complaints from last year. United is now within a few percentage points of American, in terms of its complaints share — a number that will surely be troubling to United’s customer service executives.

As a reminder, we typically receive only the most difficult cases through our help form. The grievances represent a small fraction of the overall problems with a company. Often, consumers come to us when they’ve tried everything, up to and including litigation.

Finally, a note about our methodology: We’ve changed the way we count our cases, focusing on grievances from Fortune 500 companies plus a selection of frequently complained-about travel companies. The results are available to us in real time and we’re trying to figure out a way to share them with you in the future. We’ll revise the previous results to reflect the new methodology.

Here’s last month:

MAY 2017
Company Complaints Percent
American Airlines 26 9.09%
United Airlines 20 6.99%
Airbnb 8 2.80%
Delta Air Lines 8 2.80%
Enterprise Rent-A-Car 7 2.45%
Expedia 7 2.45%
Spirit Airlines 7 2.45%
AT&T 6 2.10%
Holiday Inn (IHG) 6 2.10%
Allegiant Air 5 1.75%

Here’s what April looked like:

APRIL 2017
Company Complaints Percent
American Airlines 39 13.40%
United Airlines 23 7.90%
Delta Air Lines 14 4.81%
Enterprise Rent-A-Car 8 2.75%
Expedia 8 2.75%
Airbnb 7 2.41%
Spirit Airlines 7 2.41% 5 1.72%
Avis Car Rental 5 1.72%
Facebook 5 1.72%

And here’s our leaderboard for 2017. For the year, we have 1,507 cases.

Company Complaints Percent
American Airlines 133 8.83%
United Airlines 98 6.50%
Delta Air Lines 47 3.12%
Enterprise Rent-A-Car 37 2.46%
Expedia 29 1.92%
British Airways 27 1.79%
Airbnb 25 1.66%
AT&T 22 1.46%
Lufthansa 20 1.33%
Spirit Airlines 19 1.26%

A few thoughts on the figures:

✓ The year-to-date numbers shows how close the race is between American and United. The only question: Will United overtake its rival to win the title of “most complained about” company for 2017? Summer is just ahead, and anything can happen.

✓ Expedia must be doing something right. It continues to drop in the rankings. I’m not entirely sure what the company is doing, but my guess would be that it’s finally taking care of its customers.

✓ British Airways is the top international airline. Will its recent IT problems cause a spike in complaints? I think we’ll have a clearer picture in June.

I’d love to get your reaction to these numbers. The comments are open.

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.

8 thoughts on “American Airlines still tops our complaints list, but here comes United

  1. The numbers don’t add up. Looking at the Jan, Feb, and Mar complaints (links below), and combining those with the April and May complaints listed above, the totals don’t match the Jan-May total figure provided in the summary. For example, AA was 34/23/36/39/26, for a total of 158, but the Jan-May summary only lists 133. The United monthlies add up to 106, vs the 98 in the summary, and the DL monthlies add up to 52, vs 47 in the Summary.

    That said, using the summary figures, Spirit remains the most-complained about airline (adjusted for # of passengers), with Delta much better than American or United. American’s “lead” over United shrinks a bit when adjusted for number of passengers.

  2. Looking further at the summary vs. monthly numbers, there are more oddities. Hertz had 8 complaints each in Feb and Mar, but the fact that they weren’t on the summary implies they got a total of 18 or fewer for Jan-May, so a total of only two for the other three months. Seems unlikely. Similarly, Avis had 15 across two months, so would have had only three across the other three months?

  3. Could be that the reason complaints against Expedia are slowing down is that people are using Expedia less.

    1. Given that room bookings were up 12% from the prior year in the first quarter of 2017, and airplane tickets up 8%, that explanation doesn’t hold water.

      The number of complaints here are so tiny in relative terms that reading anything into the trends is a dubious exercise at best. By way of comparison, around 30 million people booked hotel rooms (the number is much higher if we include airline bookings) through Expedia in January-May of this year. That compares to 45 complaints here.

  4. I noticed something this week that makes me think again about how much consumers really don’t understand.

    UNITED had a plane return to ORD after a bird strike. Even though there were flames from the engine, the engine wasn’t on fire, as many commentators said in the local papers comment section. Many blamed poor maintenance and that they’d avoid United.

    In any given month, there are probably 30 to 50 bird strikes to aircraft around the world. That’s not the fault if the carriers, it’s part of living beside nature. Yet, the media and posters to comment boards, all played it up as if United was at fault.

  5. Looks like American needs to try harder to keep it’s place. Definitely a race to the bottom going on here.

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