Fewer passengers grumbled to federal regulators about commercial airline service in 2013, resulting in a 14% drop in the number of complaints filed from the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
Federal officials received 13,168 complaints in 2013, compared to 15,338 complaints in 2012, the department noted in its recently released Air Travel Consumer Report.
However, those totals only include incidents reported directly to the government by passengers. Airline companies do not disclose complaints filed directly with individual carriers, and those numbers likely exceed the government’s tally, the Los Angeles Times reported in February 2014.
Overall, 2013 saw a slight year-over-year bump for air travel, with a 1.3% increase in total passenger traffic, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Domestic airlines and foreign carriers serving the United States combined to carry 826 million passengers, the highest total since 2007.
December proved the most vexing month for air travelers last year, with 1,114 consumer complaints lodged, a 23.5% increase over December 2012 – and a 47.5% increase over November 2013.
Nationwide, there were 10 tarmac delays of more than three hours for domestic flights and four tarmac delays of more than four hours for international flights in December 2013. The bulk of the delays were blamed on a snowstorm at Chicago O’Hare Airport, the DOT reported.
With some exceptions, airlines must allow passengers to disembark if their plane has been delayed on the tarmac for longer than three hours in the case of domestic flights or longer than four hours for international flights.
The on-time arrival rate for December 2013 was 68.9%, down from the 76.6% rate reported in December 2012, according to the Air Travel Consumer Report. Nearly one-third of flight delays in the final month of 2013 were caused by weather issues.
The carriers with the highest on-time arrival rates were Hawaiian Airlines (92.4%), Virgin America (85.6%) and Alaska Airlines (85.5%). According to the transportation department, the three carriers with the lowest on-time arrival rates were Southwest Airlines (57.7%), Frontier Airlines (60.2%) and American Eagle Airlines (60.5%).
In December 2013, 2.9% of scheduled domestic flights were canceled – almost double the 1.6% rate of December 2012. American Eagle Airlines had the highest rate of canceled flights (9.4%), with Hawaiian Airlines reporting the lowest rate (0.2%).
U.S. airline carriers also reported a year-over-year uptick in mishandled baggage rates – 3.22 reports per 1,000 passengers in 2013 compared to 3.09 reports per 1,000 passengers the previous year.
Airline passengers can submit complaints to the Department of Transportation online at www.dot.gov/airconsumer/air-travel-complaint-comment-form.