Airline complaints down over last year, despite more bumping incidents

You might not know it looking through the latest travel headlines, but complaints against airlines during the first quarter of 2017 are actually down 19.3 percent from the same time last year.

According to the latest Air Travel Consumer Report released by the Department of Transportation, the entire number of complaints received by airlines between January and March 2017 sits at just 3,731. And while that figure might seem high, especially considering that it only covers the first three months of the year, it’s a far cry from the 4,629 complaints filed during the same time period last year.


Furthermore, the DOT’s figures — which were based on data from the Aviation Consumer Protection Division — reflect complaints filed against domestic and foreign carriers, but they also take into account any complaints filed against travel agents and tour operators working with the flights.

Consumerist also notes that, despite American Airlines receiving the most complaints (183) in the month of March, Spirit Airlines received the most complaints per passenger (102) in the same month, with roughly 5 out of every 100,000 passengers filing a complaint.

Both American and Spirit, however, racked up fewer complaints in March 2017 than they did during March of 2016, when American garnered 334 and Spirit amassed 174.

But just as any flight has its high and low points, so too does the DOT’s first-quarter Air Travel Consumer Report. According to their numbers, more people were bumped due to overbooked flights, both voluntarily and involuntarily, in the first few months of 2017 than the first few months of 2016 — but not by all that much.

In total, 102,285 passengers were voluntarily bumped from their flights (in exchange for compensation) and 9,566 were involuntarily removed in 2017. In 2016, those numbers were only slightly less, with 97,619 passengers volunteering their seats, and 9,445 being removed.


In both years, Delta Air Lines was responsible for the most voluntarily bumped passengers (28,328 in 2016; 38,344 in 2017) and Southwest bumped the most passengers involuntarily (3,116 in 2016; 2,573 in 2017).

The DOT’s latest figures concerning overbooking do not reflect new airline policies instituted after the April 9 incident aboard United Express Flight 3411, during which a 69-year-old passenger was forcibly and violently removed from an overbooked flight.

In late April, for instance, United announced a new incentive program to cut down on their number of involuntarily bumped passengers. Southwest Airlines announced their decision in April to eventually stop overbooking flights altogether.

It remains to be seen what effect these policies will have on the DOT’s future Air Travel Consumer Reports.