Ranking US airlines by complaints

US airlines get about 10, 000 complaints a year reported to the US Department of Transport. The number of complaints rose until 2012, when they fell slightly.


1404 US airlines complaint tendLast year, 643 million passengers were carried by US airlines, so the number of complaints in that perspective does not seem to me to be that high. Of course few of us take our frustration with an airline to the appropriate authorities, preferring to whine about it ourselves or post our experiences on Facebook!

The report “Unfriendly Skies”, an analysis of five years of airline complaints by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund shows some interesting patterns.

Overall, consumers complained most about flight problems (one third of all complaints). Flight problems include Cancellations, Delays, and Missed Connections.  This was followed by:

  • Baggage (16%)
  • Reservations/ticketing and boarding (13%)
  • Customer Service (13%)

These four categories comprise three quarters (75%) of all complaints.

Of concern were that seven percent of all complaints concerned issues with disability. Oversales, an issue a few years ago were only 4% of all complaints.

1404 overall complaints by category


The top five most complained about airlines between 2009 and 2013 were:

  1. Spirit Airlines who topped the list with three times more complaints than any other carrier- I have already dealt with the much publicised and not unexpected shocker results in an earlier post today.
  2. Frontier Airlines received 3 complaints per 100 000 passengers in 2013. Interestingly up to 2012, their complaints hovered around the 1 per 100 000 mark. In 2013, they surged. Linked to their move toward becoming an ultra low cost carrier? Kate O’Malley, Manager, Corporate Communications at Frontier Airlines blames a botched frequent flyer promotion on the rise in dissatisfaction.

    Frontier Airlines - Airbus on short final


  3. United Airlines  saw their customer complaints rise from 1.3 complaints per 100 000 passengers in 2009 to a whopping 4.2 in 2012. This spike was undoubtedly related to their merger with Continental airlines. In 2013 they dropped to 2.1.

    English: The sign indicating the headquarters ...

    American Airlines HQ: Wikipedia

  4. American Airlines have the dubious record of seeing their complaints increase every year since 2009. They have almost doubled from 1.06 in 2009 to 1.99 in 2013). I have been complaining consistently that every time I fly American, it has felt worse than it did before. JD Power nominated them as the third worst of North America’s Traditional carriers. It will be interesting to see  how its merger with US changes this. Passengers complained most about cancellations, delays and missed connections. One fifth of all complaints were to do with baggage issues with 15% upset by poor customer service (a beef of mine with this airline).
  5. American Eagle Airlines:Like its parent, American Eagle have seen a steady rise in complaints from 0.6 per 100 000 passengers in 2009 to 1.7 last year. Flight problems, baggage and customer service topped the concerns.

The best?

  1. Southwest (0.3 complaints per 100 000). While far fewer complaints than another carrier, flight problems, customer service and baggage topped the list
  2. Alaska Airlines (0.4 complaints per 100 000). Reservations, ticketing and boarding were where this carrier had the most issues.
  3. Delta have consistently worked hard since the merger with Northwest to build a better airline. A few years ago , I vowed never to fly them again. Since getting my toe back in the water, so as to speak, I see the airline improving everywhere. They dropped from 1.9 complaints per 100 000 in 2009 to 0.59 last year. Baggage complaints have fallen by two thirds. Complaints to do with reservations, ticketing and boarding have fallen by almost 60 percent.
  4. Jetblue had their worst year for customer complaints in 2010 with 1.25 per 100 000 passengers. They appear to have worked consistently since then to halve complaints with 2013 being their least complained about year with 0.61 complaints per 100 000 passengers. Baggage was where they saw their biggest issues topping concerns about flight delays and cancellations.

Overall, no surprises with the results. They parallel my experiences. It is important to note that improvement is possible as evidenced by Jetblue Delta and United. American has a clear path ahead of them as they build what will hopefully be a better airline from their merger.

 Related Posts

Spirit most complained about US airline

2013 Worst Airlines

Ten Worst Airlines- 2012 










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  1. I guess the data does confirm my suspicions … It’s delays and cancellations that are tops where complaints are concerned. Not surprising, as these could ruin your entire schedule especially if meetings and conferences have been pre-arranged.

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