Top Complaints about Airline Travel

February 5, 2016

When it comes to flying, getting where you want to go on time always seems to be an issue. Flight delays and cancellations top the list of complaints.

“You keep watching your departure time go up and up and up. That is quite frustrating,” said traveler Frank Evans who had just flown into Tampa from Canada.

Dana Hampton, who was headed to Atlanta, echoed that frustration, “Nobody wants to be delayed ‘cause you have to change everything, so no one likes it.”

And traveler Jackie Kurzenski from Philadelphia said, “Delayed is bad, but cancelled is the worst!”

“Sometimes they’ll cancel a flight ‘cause I don’t think they booked it full.  So, they’ll just make everybody wait for the next one,” said traveler Darryl Poulsen.

Late Arriving Flights

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s latest Air Travel Consumer Report, the most common cause for delays is “late arriving air-craft.”  That causes a ripple effect that compounds the problem.  Basically, the previous flight arrives late and, as a result, the next flight is late too.

Here are the main reasons for delays and cancellations in order of frequency:

  1. Late flights
  2. Air traffic issues
  3. Mechanical & crew problems
  4. Extreme Weather

Your Rights

Flight delays happen for many reasons– bad weather, air traffic congestion—things beyond the airlines control; and, of course, mechanical issues—that you can’t predict.  Unfortunately, you don’t have as many rights as you might think when it comes to flight delays.  Airlines are not required to compensate you for flight delays or cancelations—unless you are “bumped” from a flight that is over-sold.

Tips to Avoid Delayed & Canceled Flights

You can’t always control it, but two tips to reduce your chance of encountering flight delays include:

  • Book your flight to leave earlier in the day, if possible.  They’re less likely to be delayed than a flight later in the day—and if you are delayed or canceled—you’ll still have options to re-route.
  • Book non-stop flights—they’re less likely to be delayed.  A connection always creates the possibility of a missed flight.

Based on 2015 numbers, the two months when you’re most likely to experience delays:

  • February– in the heart of winter
  • June—the start of the summer travel season

Mishandled Baggage

Mishandled baggage comes in second for consumer complaints.  Here are some tips to reduce your chances of having baggage claim problems:

  • Don’t check in at the last minute— your bag might not make to the plane on time, even if you do.
  • Be sure to get a claim check; and hold on to it until you get your bags
  • Don’t pack valuable items you don’t want to lose or can’t be without – like expensive jewelry or medication
  • Book a non-stop flight—connections lead to more handling of your bag and create more opportunity for a problem.

Customer Service Complaints

Also high on the list:  complaints about customer service.

Traveler Jackie Kurzenski and her brother Hal Blakemore got a taste of that frustration recently when their flight to Philadelphia was canceled during the recent snowstorm, which affected the Northeast.

“I’m askin’ her, ‘Are there other airlines that have flights going out?’ ‘No, no, I can’t see any,’ she says.  For 20 minutes we’re talking and wasting my time.  I look up at the board and I say, “What about that one?’” Kurzenski said exasperatedly describing her experience. “She said ‘no,’ but there were—all because she wanted to sell me another ticket.”

Another traveler offered this advice if all else fails, ”Get your patience and keep it going.”

The biggest take-away:  book a non-stop flight, if you can.  That generally reduces the likelihood of a problem, whether it’s a lost bag or flight delay.

Top 5 Reasons People Complained in November 2015

  1. Flight problems: delays, cancellations, misconnections
  2. Baggage
  3. Reservations/Ticketing/Boarding
  4. Customer Service
  5. Fares

For information on chronically delayed flights, click here.