March complaints approach record as American Airlines extends lead

It was another busy month for complaints. Readers filed 337 grievances, just a few cases shy of our record 342 complaints received last August.

American Airlines continued its winning streak in the complaints department, claiming almost 11 percent of our formal grievances. United Airlines and Expedia followed, although they offered no meaningful competition.

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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 March looked like:

MARCH 2017
Company Complaints Percent
American Airlines 36 10.68%
United Airlines 23 6.82%
Expedia 16 4.75%
Enterprise Rent-A-Car 12 3.56%
Delta Air Lines 11 3.26%
Hertz Rent a Car 8 2.37%
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) 7 2.08%
AT&T 5 1.48%
Airbnb 5 1.48%
British Airways 5 1.48%

Here’s the previous month:

Company Complaints Percent
American Airlines 23 9.24%
United Airlines 19 7.63%
Delta Air Lines 8 3.21%
Hertz Rent a Car 8 3.21%
AT&T 7 2.81% 7 2.81%
Expedia 7 2.81%
Southwest Airlines 7 2.81%
Enterprise Rent-A-Car 6 2.41%
Air Canada 5 2.01%

To put this into context, here’s where we were last March:

MARCH 2016
Company Complaints Percent
American Airlines 36 13.19%
Delta Air Lines 14 5.13%
Expedia 12 4.40%
United Airlines 12 4.40%
Viking 9 3.30%
Hertz 7 2.56%
AT&T 5 1.83%
Avis 5 1.83%
Southwest Airlines 5 1.83%
Spirit Airlines 5 1.83%

Here’s the previous month:

Company Complaints Percent
American Airlines 42 16.09%
United Airlines 14 5.36%
Expedia 12 4.60%
Hertz 7 2.68%
British Airways 6 2.30%
Delta Air Lines 6 2.30%
Southwest Airlines 6 2.30%
AT&T 5 1.92%
Spirit Airlines 5 1.92%
Avis 4 1.53%

So what do these numbers mean? To be honest, I’m having a difficult time finding any meaning here. Month after month, we see complaints about the same companies with one or two variations.

I’m sorry to be cynical about this, but I can’t see any meaningful trend.

✓ American’s lead is unquestionable. If you want to complain, fly on American. Sure, it’s the biggest airline, but even weighted for its size (which some of our mathematically-inclined commenters have done) it’s still overperforming — or should I say, underperforming?

✓ United and Delta should not be so smug about their second or third place ranking. As my teen-ager would say, they still suck. No two ways about it: Our domestic carriers are a customer-service disaster area.

✓ Car rental companies definitely showed up to the party. But they are fighting to keep up with the big airlines.

✓ Expedia. Ah, Expedia. Words fail me.

So there you have it. We’ll continue collecting cases and reporting on them. Hey, it’s the least I can do.

Don’t forget to file a complaint with us so that we can count it.

6 thoughts on “March complaints approach record as American Airlines extends lead

  1. I agree. Who knows what the numbers mean? They could mean that service is declining. But they could also mean that service is better yet the numbers are higher because more people know that the help they receive here is effective.

    I’ve used this quote before on this site: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” – Mark Twain

    At the end of the day what matters is not the numbers but rather the continuing success of the work you do.

  2. Part of AA’s lead could be attributable to the fact that you write about AA a lot (both help articles and meta-help articles, like this one). So when someone is looking to complain about AA, elliott comes to the top of search engine results for searches like “AA customer complaints,” in a way that a search for “Delta customer complaints” (for example) does not. So it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, so to speak.

  3. Almost all of these industries are those with very narrow competition and are essential service providers. Airlines don’t need to have high customer satisfaction or care when their are only a handful of competitors.

  4. In most cases, airlines hold monopolices on routes/airports. Monopolies do not need to provide service….

    Kind of like the monopolies in cable/internet providers (Americans pay the most for the least service), on-line travel agencies (is there anyone left that Expedia has not bought?) etc…

    1. I don’t know if I’d agree with that… For the most part, so long as you (the proposed airline) meet licensing standards (ie foreign vs US ownership percentages) can meet safety/security regs (think FAA, TSA, etc) and of course come up with sufficient start-up funds there really is no barrier to opening an airline.. and none of these issues an of the alleged monopoly airlines control nor have any authority to approve or not.
      There may be fewer carriers today than in years past, but I don’t see a monopoly in that even airline mergers still need DOJ approval

  5. I am curious why Sixt car rentals never appear because it seems like there are getting right up there as far as damage claims.

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