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Complaints About Air Service Reach Record Low in 2003

Complaints About Air Service Reach Record Low in 2003

DOT 11-04
Bill Mosley

Wednesday, February 4, 2004 - Consumers filed fewer complaints with the government about airline service in 2003 than in any year since these complaints were first compiled in 1970, according to the monthly Air Travel Consumer Report issued today by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

Consumers filed 5,980 air-service complaints with the government last year, 36.8 percent fewer than the 9,466 complaints received in 2002. The previous low mark was the total of 5,985 complaints filed in 1993.

The monthly report also includes data on the number and causes of flight delays, as well as information on flight cancellations, reports of mishandled baggage filed with the carriers, and consumer disability and discrimination complaints received by DOT's Aviation Consumer Protection Division. This report also includes data on airline reports of oversales ("bumping") during the fourth quarter and January-December 2003.

Flight Delays*

According to information filed with the department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), the U.S. commercial air carriers reporting on-time performance posted a 76.0 percent on-time arrival record in December, down from November's 80.2 percent mark. For January-December last year, the reporting carriers posted an on-time arrival record of 82.0 percent, just under the all-time best mark of 82.1 percent recorded in 2002. The 2003 data includes reports of the 17 airlines that filed on-time performance for all of last year. During 2002, 10 carriers reported on-time performance to DOT.

Causes of Flight Delays

In December, the carriers filing on-time performance reported that 9.13 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared to 8.78 percent in November; 6.32 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared to 4.73 percent in November; 5.43 percent by factors within the airline's control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared to 4.02 percent in November; 0.76 percent by extreme weather, compared to 0.64 percent in November; and 0.08 percent for security reasons, compared to 0.04 percent in November. The department noted that weather is a factor not only in the extreme-weather category, but also in the aviation-system category - which includes delays due to the re-routing of flights by DOT's Federal Aviation Administration in consultation with the carriers involved - and the late-arriving aircraft category. Additional data on causes of flight delays can be found at the BTS website,

Flight Cancellations*

The consumer report also includes BTS data on the number of domestic flights canceled by the reporting carriers. In December, the carriers canceled 2.1 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, up from November's 1.4 percent cancellation rate.

Mishandled Baggage*

The U.S. carriers reporting flight delays and mishandled baggage data posted a mishandled baggage rate of 5.69 reports per 1,000 passengers in December, up from November's 3.54 rate.


The report also includes airline reports of involuntary denied boarding, or bumping, for the fourth quarter of last year. Of the 18 U.S. carriers that report on-time performance and mishandled baggage data, 15 are also required to report their bumping data to DOT. For the fourth quarter of 2003, the carriers recorded a bumping rate of 0.78 per 10,000 passengers.

Complaints About Airline Service

In December, the department received 467 complaints about airline service from consumers, 10.5 percent below the 522 complaints filed in December 2002 and 22.3 percent fewer than the total of 382 filed in November 2003.

Complaints About Treatment of Disabled Passengers

The report also contains a tabulation of complaints filed with DOT in December and January-December 2003 against specific airlines regarding the treatment of passengers with disabilities. The department received a total of 27 disability-related complaints in December, 8 percent more than the total of 25 filed in December 2002 but 43.8 percent fewer than the 48 complaints filed in November 2003. For all of last year, the department received 373 disability-related complaints, a drop of 21.6 percent from the total of 476 received in 2002.

Complaints About Discrimination

In December, the department received five complaints alleging discrimination by airlines due to factors other than disability - such as race, religion, national origin or sex - down from the total of eight received in December 2002 but one more than the total of four recorded in November 2003. For all of last year, the department received 86 discrimination complaints, down 55.7 percent from the 194 received in 2002. Consumers may file their complaints in writing with the Aviation Consumer Protection Division, U.S. Department of Transportation, C-75, Room 4107, 400 7th St., S.W., Washington, DC 20590; by e-mail at; by voice mail at (202) 366-2220 or by TTY at (202) 366-0511.

Consumers who want on-time performance data for specific flights should call their airline ticket offices or their travel agents. This information is available on the computerized reservation systems used by these agents. Detailed flight delay information is also available on the BTS site on the World Wide Web at

The Air Travel Consumer Report can be found on DOT's World Wide Web site at It is available in "pdf" and Microsoft Word format.

* (Due to a difference in the number of carriers reporting flight delays, flight cancellations and mishandled baggage data in December 2003 from December 2002, year-to-year data comparisons are not provided.)