Airline Passenger Complaints up More Than 50 Percent in May
July 14, 2017
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  • Airlines continued to get an earful from disgruntled passengers in May, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

    Customers filed 1,779 complaints about airline service, up 56.7 percent over May 2016, the Transportation Department said Friday. Airlines earned just two compliments — one fewer than the same month last year.

    The jump in complaints wasn’t as dramatic as in April, when complaints jumped 70 percent after three consecutive months in which consumers reported fewer problems.

    The spike in complaints followed a series of high-profile incidents, including one aboard an April 9 flight during which a United Airlines passenger suffered a broken nose and concussion when he was dragged off a plane to make room for an airline employee.

    But the overwhelming majority of the May complaints concerned more common travel issues, such as flight cancellations and delays, according to the Transportation Department.

    Nearly 240 people complained about baggage issues, up 65 percent from May 2016, even though passengers filed slightly fewer reports of lost, damaged, delayed or “pilfered” baggage. Across U.S. airlines, 2.32 out of every 1,000 passengers filed a report about a mishandled bag in May, down from 2.4 per 1,000 during the same month the year before, the Transportation Department said.

    Chicago-based United’s record on baggage complaints has been improving, but last month the airline also rolled out a policy designed to appease passengers when it does lose their bags.

    If a customer reports a bag missing and United fails to track it down within three days, the airline will pay out $1,500 to cover the value of the bag and its contents, said airline spokeswoman Erin Benson.

    Customers don’t need to provide documentation, such as receipts, unless the lost items were worth more than $1,500, she said.

    The new policy was one of several changes United announced as part of its response to the April 9 passenger-dragging incident.

    It’s unclear how much the new policy will ding United’s bottom line. The airline declined to say how many bags stay missing for more than three days — at which point they’re deemed permanently lost and eligible for reimbursement — or how much it typically paid out when customers had to document their claims.

    But the airline has been losing track of fewer bags. United passengers filed 200,329 reports of lost, damaged, delayed or “pilfered” baggage last year, or 2.6 for every 1,000 passengers, according to the Transportation Department.

    That’s down from 3.2 reports for every 1,000 passengers in 2015, and nearly 3.9 in 2012. Only regional airlines were more likely to give passengers trouble with their luggage that year, according to the Transportation Department.