Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Tue May 17 2016

More Flights Are Delayed, So Why Are Fewer Fliers Complaining?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | May 17, 2016

More Flights Are Delayed, So Why Are Fewer Fliers Complaining?

The US DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics released its Air Travel Consumer Report for March yesterday. The data for the third month showed that the country's top 12 airlines improved in a couple of key areas. 

Fewer complaints 

The DOT received 1,429 official complaints from fliers in March. That is a marked improvement compared to both recent months and the past year. The number of complaints was down by 17.7 percent compared to March of 2015. Complaints have been rising more recently with high numbers in both January and February of this year. March’s final tally was five percent lower than February’s. 

This may show that the trend of fliers lodging official complaints is slowing after the recent spike. The drop could be explained, in part, by the fact that airlines performed better overall during March in a few key areas. 

Better performance in key areas

Most importantly, fewer flights were canceled in March. Airlines canceled one percent of their trips during the month. In February, 1.6 percent of all flights failed to take off. In March of 2015, the cancelation rate was much higher, at 2.2 percent.  

READ MORE: How Did Airlines Fare in The 2016 American Consumer Satisfaction Index?

The number of lost and mishandled bags also fell in March. For every 1,000 bags handled during the month, 2.49 were lost or delayed. In February that number was at 2.64 per 1,000 suitcases, and last March the number was at 3.2. 

Another positive stat for airlines in March: only 0.6 people per 10,000 passengers were bumped from flights because of overbooking. Last year, that number was slightly higher at 0.82 per 10,000. 

Number of delays increased

Airlines fared worse in one of the most notable statistics on the Air Travel Consumer Report. In March, 81.5 percent of all flights arrived within 15 minutes of their scheduled time. That is down from 83.6 percent in February. Of course, March is a busier travel season because of Spring Break.

Six domestic flights were delayed for more than three hours, but five of them were due to the same March snowstorm at Denver International. 

Some individual airlines stand out

When it comes to individual airlines, Hawaiian had the best on-time percentage in March. 89.9 percent of its flights landed on time. Delta came in second at 87.9 percent. Spirit Airlines had a dismal March. Only 64.6 percent of its flights were considered on time. 

Why are fewer consumers complaining?

It could be that fares are low enough that fliers are willing to overlook delays and other inconveniences. Or it could be that they are now focusing their complaints on delays caused at understaffed TSA checkpoints.

Whatever the reason, we will have to wait until the April Air Travel Consumer Report is released (sometime next month) to see if fliers are still giving airlines a pass or if the number of complaints increases again.  


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