DOT: Consumer complaints fell to record levels

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WASHINGTON -- In 2003, consumer complaints to the DOT about air travel fell to their lowest annual level ever, according to DOT figures released last week as part of its monthly Air Travel Consumer Report.

The DOT has been tabulating complaints since 1970. The DOT received 5,980 complaints in 2003, and that was 36.8% lower than in 2002; the 2003 mark narrowly bested the previous low of 5,985 complaints in 1993.

The 0.71 complaints per 100,000 passengers in 2003 also was the lowest rate since 1995, when the rate was 0.66 per 100,000.

The 2003 decline is even more dramatic when compared with the peak year, 1987, when the DOT received 44,845. That was a year in which on-time problems were rampant, and the DOT determined many carriers were publishing unrealistic schedules. Airline mergers also had caused consumer problems that year, a DOT spokesman said.

Speaking of on-time performance, the airlines posted their second-best rate since the DOT began gathering the data.

The full-year rate of 82% of flights arriving within 15 minutes of schedule was topped only by the 82.1% they achieved in 2002. A footnote: The 2002 data included 10 carriers, while 2003 included 17 carriers.

Among the major carriers, Southwest posted the best on-time performance for the year, at 86.3%. US Airways, ranked 12th, was the lowest among the major carriers at 79.7%. For December alone, Southwest ranked best among the majors at 83.5% and Alaska ranked worst at 72.9%.

Atlantic Coast had the five worst flights for on-time performance, all of them involving O'Hare; on one of those flights, number 7839 from Burlington, Vt., to O'Hare, all 17 flights arrived 15 minutes late or more, and half arrived more than 48 minutes late.

To contact reporter Andrew Compart, send e-mail to [email protected].

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