BY JESSICA PUCKETT August 29, 2022
Consumer complaints against airlines have recently surged 270 percent above pre-pandemic levels, according to a new report from the Department of Transportation. Among the barrage of complaints, a majority were concerning flight problems such as delays, cancellations, or “other deviations from the airline’s schedule.”
The report, which was released last week, analyzed consumer airline statistics during June 2022. During that month, the DOT says it received 5,862 consumer complaints—a nearly 35 percent increase compared to May. Such a spike in complaints is likely not surprising to travelers, who have been dealing with constant flight delays and cancellations this summer.
In order to help rein in some of the air travel turmoil, Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote a letter on August 18 to U.S. airlines demanding that they improve their customer service plans. “The level of disruption Americans have experienced this summer is unacceptable,” Buttigieg wrote. “In the first six months of 2022, roughly 24% of the domestic flights of U.S. airlines have been delayed and 3.2% have been canceled. As you know, these aren’t just numbers, these are missed birthday parties, graduations, time with loved ones and important meetings. ”
Buttigieg also wrote in the letter that the DOT will launch on September 2 an interactive dashboard of what passengers are owed during a flight delay or cancellation. The dashboard, set to debut as Labor Day Weekend kicks off, will show airlines’ customer service policies during flight disruptions. The goal is “to make it easier for the traveling public to determine the services such as hotels and meals that would be provided to them when the cause of a cancellation or a lengthy delay was due to circumstances within the airline’s control,” says the DOT report.
A New Federal Rule Could Make It Easier to Get Refunds for Flight Delays and CancellationsUnder a new rule proposed by the Biden administration, travelers will also be refunded when their airport is changed or a layover is added.
According to current federal guidelines, airlines are supposed to provide meal vouchers for delays of three hours or more, and lodging accommodations for passengers who must wait overnight at an airport. Additionally, the Department says it’s working to ensure consumers receive prompt refunds if they no longer wish to travel when their flights are canceled or otherwise significantly changed.
Officials also say they’re “monitoring airlines’ operations to ensure that airlines are not engaging in unrealistic scheduling of flights and are complying with aviation consumer protection requirements.” As such, airlines around the world are still making adjustments to their schedules into fall to ensure they can operate all flights and help ease disruptions: Earlier in August, American Airlines cut 31,000 flights from its November schedule. Likewise, British Airways recently cut 10,000 short-haul flights from October through March that were scheduled in and out of London Heathrow—an airport which has enacted daily passenger caps due to ongoing staff shortages. By adjusting their schedules months in advance, airlines hope to reduce the number of cancellations that happen at the last minute.
The DOT’s new dashboard tool—as well as the reminder to airlines—comes as the Labor Day holiday weekend will prove to be yet another busy one for airports. “About 12.6 million passengers are scheduled to fly from U.S airports from Thursday, September 1 through Monday, September 5, with the busiest air travel days occurring on Thursday and Friday,” according to a report from travel site Hopper. That would be a busier holiday travel period than over Fourth of July weekend, when TSA screened 11.3 million travelers at U.S. airports—and widespread flight delays and cancellations snarled many travelers’ plans.
Airports expected to be the busiest over Labor Day include Atlanta, Denver, and Los Angeles, with each airport expected to see more than half a million passengers over the holiday, according to Hopper’s estimates.
If you haven’t booked yet, Hopper suggests taking the first flight of the day to avoid cancellations, and building in a buffer day to absorb any flight delays. Another tip is to proactively take a look at alternate flights to your destination before head to the airport, so you can easily rebook if your itinerary is canceled.