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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Air travel complaints soared 270 percent in June

Travelers were most irate about flight cancellations, delays, or other schedule changes

(iStock/Washington Post Illustration)
2 min

It wasn’t just you: Flying was miserable for a lot of people this summer.

Consumers filed more than 5,800 complaints about airlines in June, according to numbers released by the Department of Transportation Friday. That’s an increase of nearly 270 percent compared to June 2019 and 40 percent compared with last year. The department got more complaints in the first six months of this year — 28,550 —than in all of 2019.

Travelers were most irate about flight problems: cancellations, delays or other schedule changes. Those issues made up nearly 29 percent of the complaints. That’s not surprising, considering the widespread issues passengers faced over the long holiday weekend that included Juneteenth and Father’s Day, when more than 3,000 flights were canceled and over 19,000 were delayed. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg was among those whose flights were axed.

More than 8,000 delays plague airports from Texas to New York

The Transportation Department said in a news release that its office of aviation consumer protection “routinely contacts airlines with widespread cancellations or delays to make clear their obligation to promptly refund passengers who choose not to accept the alternative offered for a canceled or significantly changed flight.”

Refunds were also high on the list of traveler concerns, with those issues making up more than 24 percent of complaints.

Flight cancellations stressing weary travelers

Airlines canceled just over 3 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, higher than the cancellation rate of 1.6 percent a year earlier and 2.1 percent in 2019. On-time arrival was actually slightly better than before the pandemic, with 73.5 percent of flights arriving on time this June compared to 73.3 percent in 2019. That performance was worse than May of this year, when 77.2 percent of flights were on time.

Carriers mishandled more than 300,000 bags in June out of 43 million checked. That made the mishandled baggage rate .71 percent, higher than May but on par with June 2019.

The number of lost or damaged wheelchairs and scooters continued to increase, with airlines mishandling 1,145 out of more than 68,000 — a rate of 1.68 percent — in June. That’s higher than the rate of 1.54 percent in 2019. Travelers with disabilities have told The Washington Post that they experienced more issues with wheelchair damage and long waits for assistance this summer amid labor shortages. Those experiences are reflected in the data: the Transportation Department got 177 complaints related to disability in June, an increase from 158 in May and 70 in June of 2019.