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

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By Christopher Elliott

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.

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. 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
American Airlines269.09%
United Airlines206.99%
Delta Air Lines82.80%
Enterprise Rent-A-Car72.45%
Spirit Airlines72.45%
Holiday Inn (IHG)62.10%
Allegiant Air51.75%

Here’s what April looked like:

APRIL 2017
American Airlines3913.40%
United Airlines237.90%
Delta Air Lines144.81%
Enterprise Rent-A-Car82.75%
Spirit Airlines72.41%
Avis Car Rental51.72%

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

American Airlines1338.83%
United Airlines986.50%
Delta Air Lines473.12%
Enterprise Rent-A-Car372.46%
British Airways271.79%
Spirit Airlines191.26%

A few thoughts on the figures:

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✓ 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.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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