Gripes about airline service shoot up 169% July over July

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WASHINGTON -- Consumers flooded the Transportation Department with 2,485 complaints about air travel in July, including 2,111 about U.S. airline service, the DOT reported.

That total number of air travel complaints is 87% more than in June, 169% more than in July 1998 and the most since March 1998, DOT Air Travel Consumer Report figures show.

The Air Transport Association, however, said the number of complaints received by the DOT still pales in comparison to the number of people who fly. "It's such a small number, it's not an indicator of anything," a spokesman said.

Complaints received by airlines, which the ATA considers a more accurate measure, also have been going up, he said. But the airlines have responded, he said, with the "customer service commitment" they agreed to as a group in June.

Complaints received by the DOT were up in every category, but some of the biggest July-to-July increases were for flight cancellations (299%), delays (338%) and misconnections (343%).

Tour operators were targeted in 171 complaints, up from just 16 in July 1998. By airline, the biggest increase in complaints was against American. The number more than quintupled, from 77 to 405, or 5.26 per 100,000 enplanements. TWA complaints shot up from 28 to 119, or 4.76 per 100,000. US Airways complaints rose from 41 to 182, or 3.64 per 100,000.

Airlines contend consumer dissatisfaction is up because of crowded airplanes, crowded airports and flight delays. The industry has been very vocal in blaming the air traffic control system for the increase in delays this year.

This month, the controllers finally fired back. The main reason for the delays is that "profit-driven airlines place too many planes on the runways at peak times," the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said.

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