DOT data shows devastating effect of the pandemic

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Airplane airport tarmac runway [Credit: potowizard/Shutterstock.com]
The DOT released statistics Thursday for full-year 2020 as part of its Air Travel Consumer Report. Photo Credit: potowizard/Shutterstock.com

U.S. airlines operated just 4.72 million flights in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic decimated the industry, the fewest in any year since the DOT began tracking the figure in 1987. 

The total was down 40% from the 7.94 million flights U.S carriers operated last year. 

The statistic was one of several that the DOT released Thursday for full-year 2020 as part of its Air Travel Consumer Report. 

The report also shows that cancellations, fueled by chaos during the early period of the pandemic, rose to 6% of scheduled flights in 2020 from 1.9% in 2019. But by late in the year operations were mostly back on track. The cancellation rate in December was just 1%. 

Related report: Flight delays are down, but refund complaints are up

Allegiant canceled by far the highest portion of its flights last year among the 10 largest mainline carriers at 14.5%, while Spirit led the way with a cancellation rate of 2.19%

Meanwhile, airlines upped their on-time performance, aided by less crowded skies and airports. In 2020, 84.7% of flights operated by U.S. carriers arrived on time, compared with 79.4% in 2019. Among the 10 largest mainline carriers, Hawaiian had the highest on-time rate and Allegiant had the lowest. 

Rates of mishandled bags also improved in 2020, dropping by 30%, to 4.1 per 1,000 bags enplaned. 

However, complaints received by the DOT about airlines and travel agencies skyrocketed to 103,000 from 15,000, driven almost entirely by consumer complaints about not receiving refunds.

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