Complaints from travelers about US airlines soars to record pace in 2023

People wait in line at the security checkpoint of JFK International airport on June 30, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Air travel can be agitating for passengers for numerous reasons, and while airlines make efforts to streamline their operations for a better customer experience, a new report details the frustration many feel at the airport. 

Complaints against U.S. airlines more than doubled, increasing by 109% from January through May 2023 compared to the same time in 2022. 

These numbers are part of a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, based on data released by the Department of Transportation.

The report details 38,135 passenger complaints for the first five months of 2023 against the airline industry, including U.S. and foreign airlines, travel agents and tour operators, which increased by 68% compared to the same months last year. 

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Passengers also lamented about cancellations/delays and mishandled baggage, which more than doubled for the first five months of 2023 compared with 2022. 

U.S. airlines canceled roughly 1.6% of flights among the 10 largest airlines and their partner airlines from January through September in 2023, a decline from 2.8% during the same time last year.

Alaska and Allegiant Airlines were among the best for cancellation rates during the summer at 1% or less. Southwest Airlines had cancellation rates less than 1% in June and July. And Hawaiian and United Airlines had cancellation rates of less than 1% for one month in the summer. 

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Frontier and Jetblue had the worst cancellation rates in each of the three summer months, at 3.9%, 4.5% and 5% for Frontier and 3.5%, 6.8% and 2.9% for Jetblue. United had cancellation rates exceeding 3% two of the summer months. 

According to the report, complaints about refunds dipped by almost 12%, a significant change from the nearly 90,000 refund gripes filed in 2020. 

Customers also expressed dissatisfaction with fares, reservations/ticketing, customer service, disability, bumpings, discrimination, advertising and animals. 

Despite the displeasure of some passengers, air travel in the U.S. has already rebounded this year, surpassing 2019 levels.

Citing stats from the Transportation Security Administration, the Associated Press noted that the number of travelers going through U.S. airport checkpoints is 12.4% over last year and 1.4% higher than in 2019.

Travel around the Thanksgiving Day holiday topped 2019 numbers, peaking at 2.9 million — a single-day record for TSA — screened on Sunday, Nov. 26, as airlines predict a blockbuster holiday season, the Associated Press reported. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Washington, D.C.