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AUSTIN -- With only 81.9% of flights departing on time since the start of the pandemic, DFW International Airport ranked worst of the nation’s sixteen busiest airports, according to a new TexPIRG Education Fund analysis of more than 200,000 U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) complaints going back to 2016.
“The basic job of airlines and airports is to get passengers and their belongings from one place to another, and to do so in a timely manner,” said Adam Altmejd, a spokesman for TexPIRG. “But when flights are delayed or cancelled, flyers are often left very literally stranded. The Air Travel Industry must improve if it intends to provide the quality of service it owes to flyers.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic turned life upside down in early 2020 and commercial flights came to a near-halt, the U.S. government gave the airline industry $50 billion to save jobs and keep the industry afloat. Since then, despite surviving because of their customers’ tax dollars, the airlines repeatedly have canceled and delayed flights, denied refunds and failed at customer service, according to complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and documented in Not First Class: Flyer complaints soar as airlines cancel flights, deny refunds, ruin plans, a new report released Friday by TexPIRG’s research partner TexPIRG Education Fund.
“The airline industry is failing its customers and the country as a whole. They took our money to stabilize their wallets. Now, their profits are flying high at the expense of travellers not getting off the ground,” said Altmejd.
The DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection’s monthly reports detail how consumers are clamoring for refunds for flights canceled during the pandemic and are upset about several other issues, notably understaffing.
Some airlines are understaffed because they decided to use federal relief funds to buy out their workers and give them early retirement packages. Fewer workers and fewer flights mean each changed, delayed or canceled route affects a higher percentage of flights and flyers. While these problems are a direct result of the airlines’ actions, the companies generally refuse to issue refunds to many of their customers.
Key findings of our analysis:
Among the 16 busiest U.S. airports, San Francisco International Airport, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport have the best on-time departure records since May 2020; whereas Texas’ own Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, and Denver International Airport have the worst.
The airline industry has failed to adequately deal with customers whose flights were canceled since March 2020. The most common complaint category for consumers was refunds.
Complaints still haven’t decreased to pre-pandemic levels. In 2021 through August, complaints have stayed above 3,000 per month. In August, the latest month for which data are available, complaints hit 6,666, compared with 1,190 in February 2020, the month before the pandemic hit. That volume in August is 460 percent higher than 18 months earlier.
Southwest and Allegiant were the airlines with the fewest complaints per 100,000 flyers since May 2020, indicating they likely dealt with the issues caused by the pandemic better than others. Frontier, United and Hawaiian had the most complaints per 100,000 flyers.
On-time arrival records vary widely. Delta, Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines have been the most punctual since June 2020. Allegiant and JetBlue have been the least punctual.
Punctuality dropped significantly in the summer of 2021 among seven of the 10 largest airlines.
TexPIRG Education Fund is releasing the report on the same day that the Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee publicly meets on Zoom to discuss refunds for canceled flights.
The report points out that airlines, cities and the federal government can all make changes to improve the experience of flyers. Texans must voice their concerns strongly to pressure those decision makers responsible, and they can push the Department of Transportation for change by sending an email to DOTExecSec@DOT.gov, Altmejd said.
TexPIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful interests that threaten our health, safety, and wellbeing.
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