Complaints by Airline Passengers Soar in January
July 29, 2009
  • Share
  • MATTHEW STAVER / Bloomberg News

    By D.R. STEWART World Staff Writer


    U.S. airlines improved their on-time performance and mishandled-baggage rates in January compared with a year earlier, but overall complaints about flights, customer service and other problems rose 75.6 percent, the government said Tuesday.

    Industrywide in January, 27.6 percent of U.S. airline flights were more than 15 minutes late, an improvement over December, when 35.7 percent of flights were late during the month of the Christmas-New Years holidays.

    In 2007, U.S. commercial flights were late 26.6 percent of the time, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

    DOT’s “Air Travel Consumer Report” for January indicated that the airline industry improved its mishandled baggage rate.

    More than 46.17 million enplaned passengers in January wrote 340,160 mishandled-baggage reports for a rate of 7.37 reports per 1,000 passengers. The January 2007 mishandled-baggage report rate was 8.19 reports per 1,000 passengers.

    Consumer complaints – flight delays, cancellations, mishandled bags, customer service, reservations, ticketing and boarding – reported to DOT totaled 982 in January, a 75.6 percent increase from the 559 complaints in January 2007.

    American Airlines, which has 16 flights a day in Tulsa and is the world’s largest airline, continued to post substandard numbers in January for on-time performance, late flights and consumer complaints.

    American Eagle, American’s regional airline affiliate, also had a mediocre showing in January.

    American’s on-time performance in January was 66.4 percent, which ranked it 17th of the top 20 carriers. In December, American’s on-time rate was 58.7 percent, ranking it 14th.

    During the previous 20 years, American’s on-time performance was 78.4 percent, ranking it fourth in the top 20 airlines.

    American spokesman Tim Wagner said weather and air traffic control problems at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, where American and American Eagle have 500 daily aircraft departures, contributed to the delays.

    “At Chicago O’Hare, our on-time performance was 53.5 percent,” Wagner said in a telephone interview. “Any time a big airport like that is impacted, it’s going to skew the whole data.”

    But Scott Shankland, an American pilot and spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, said the delays are increasingly caused by the unreliability of aircraft because of mechanical problems.

    “We have been averaging anywhere from 30 to 40 mechanical flight cancellations a day since the beginning of the year,” Shankland said. “Certainly weather and air traffic control problems account for some of the reliability issues, but all airlines deal with those problems.

    “Mechanical cancellations are running at historically high levels.”

    Southwest Airlines, the nation’s leading discount carrier with 20 daily flights at Tulsa International Airport, had an on-time rate of 77.4 percent in January, ranking sixth in the top 20 carriers.

    “We had operational challenges with baggage and on-time performance,” said Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz. “But we finished near the top in customer complaints. We’re tops in customer service, which is our focus.”

    Southwest also had the sixth best percentage of canceled flights, with 1.1 percent. American Eagle’s cancellation rate was 5.6 percent, ranking 19th, and American’s was 3.2 percent, ranking 14th.

    Southwest ranked 10th in the industry with a mishandled baggage rate of 6.99 reports per 1,000 passengers, up from 6.69 reports in the same period last year.

    American ranked 12th with a rate of 7.75 reports per 1,000 passengers, down from 8.84 in January 2007. American Eagle ranked 19th, with a rate of 13.71, down from 17.95 a year ago.

    Southwest ranked second best in the industry to Aloha Airlines in consumer complaints in January with 0.3 complaints per 100,000 enplanements. Aloha had no complaints in January.

    American ranked 14th in complaints in January, with a rate of 1.83 complaints per 100,000 enplanements. American Eagle’s rate was 1.99.

    United Airlines ranked 20th, with 2.74 complaints per 100,000 enplanements.

    The industry average complaint rate was 1.56 complaints per 100,000 enplanements.

    D.R. Stewart 581-8451

    Source: TULSA WORLD
    Date: 2008-03-05