Consumer watchdog report says airline complaints nearly quadrupled in 2022 compared to 2019

WASHINGTON D.C. — A new consumer watchdog report about consumer experiences with airlines revealed complaints have been skyrocketing and nearly every negative issue has gotten worse in recent years.

The report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) found consumer complaints in 2022 nearly quadrupled compared with 2019.

That spike is despite the fact that the number of people who flew last year is below pre-pandemic levels.

It’s important to note this latest data doesn’t even include the December complaints when thousands of flights were delayed or canceled because that final tally is not yet available.

“The airlines have a lot of challenges in front of them,” said Teresa Murray, a consumer watchdog for U.S. PIRG. “Every category that we looked at. Refunds, flight problems which means cancelations, delays, mishandled or lost bags, ticketing issues, schedule issues… A big one is really lousy customer service.”

The report said refunds, or lack thereof, were at the top of the list of complaints followed by cancelations and delays.

The report said there were 190,038 flights canceled in the U.S. in 2022, which accounted for 2.7 percent of all scheduled flights.

In response to the reported problems, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has been looking into potential rulemaking.

That includes looking at a potential rule that would more clearly define what counts as a significant change when an airline delays a flight, which is meant to strengthen consumer protections.

“If there’s any sort of silver lining to the mess we saw at Christmas time, it’s that finally people can’t ignore there’s a problem, people who have the authority to do something about it and of course that’s the Department of Transportation and that’s Congress,” said Murray.

Murray advised travelers to know their rights and plan ahead.

“We’re not saying don’t fly but you want to be prepared,” said Murray. “If your flight is canceled for any reason at any point after you book it, you’re entitled to a full refund within seven days if you paid by credit card and that’s for the flight, seat fee, baggage fees, taxes. All of it,” said Murray. “If your bag is lost, you’re entitled to reimbursement up to $3800. Maybe it’s a good idea to put some kind of tracking device, air tag or whatever inside your luggage.”

In response to the report, a spokesperson for Airlines for America (A4A), which advocates for some of the largest airlines in the U.S., said “carriers have been working diligently to address operational challenges within our control by hiring additional staff and adjusting our schedules to improve reliability.”

A4F pointed to staffing challenges and efforts underway to address the issue including ramping up training and launching aggressive hiring campaigns.

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