Airline consumer complaints increased in 2004

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With a rise in consumer complaints in 2004, travelers are more likely to experience some form of delay at the airport when traveling, according to a federal report.

Airlines in the United States experienced higher rates of flight delays and late arrival times in 2004 than in the previous year, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation Air Travel Consumer Report. The report also showed more consumer complaints regarding airline services, and more mishandled baggage reports than the previous year.

The on-time arrival rate for 2004 was 78 percent for the 19 airlines represented in the report. This figure was down from the 82 percent reported in 2003.

SkyWest Airlines came in as the top “On-Time Airline.”

“At SkyWest, customer service and safety are our priority,” said Sabrena Suite, SkyWest spokesperson. “We do whatever it takes to accommodate our passengers.”

SkyWest operates about 1,500 flights a day, Suite said.

Laura Brown, Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson said the FAA is introducing new navigational systems to allow planes to take more direct routes, lowering the amount of flight delays and late arrival times.

“We are partnering with the airline industry in order to create improvements (to) aviation,” Brown said.

The FAA is redesigning the airspace in the United States to create more effective flight routes.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that flight delays result from aviation system delays, and extreme weather. The report by the DOT said that about 8 percent of delayed flights were caused by aviation system delays, and about 1 percent was caused by extreme weather.

“Our biggest challenge is the weather,” Brown said. “We are working with airlines to route planes around bad weather.”

American Airlines spokesperson Tim Smith said bad weather and the congested air traffic situation is what troubled the airline the most in 2004. American Airlines, which ranked in the middle among the major airlines for on-time arrival, has new plans already in effect, which seem to be alleviating the problem, he said.

“We have many new initiatives that are already showing results in 2005,” Smith said. “Our ‘critical flight’ program at our biggest hubs and cities has shown dramatic improvement over the last few months.”

The basic idea of the ‘critical flight’ program is to have the operational departments work together to get early morning, first departure flights off the gate on time. The timely start to the travel day will make it more likely to stay on time and on schedule throughout the rest of the day. So far in 2005, American Airlines has reached as high as third place in recent measurement periods, Smith said.

Regarding mishandled baggage and consumer complaints, 19 U.S. baggage carriers recorded a rate of about five reports of mishandled baggage per 1,000 passengers, in comparison with 2003’s rate of four per 1,000 passengers. The DOT received 7,477 complaints regarding airline service from consumers in 2004, which is up about 25 percent from 5,983 complaints in 2003.

At American Airlines, baggage is not one of their major problems, Smith said.

“Despite complaint reports, the reality is that more than 99 percent of all bags arrive on the same flight as the passengers,” Smith said. “These figures mean about half to 1 percent have some sort of problem beyond coming in on the next flight.”

Smith said new federal screening rules have changed the way bags are screened, and it takes more time with the new procedures and machines.

The complaints received by the DOT involved those regarding treatment of disabled passengers, discrimination, mishandled baggage and flight delays.

During 2004, the DOT received 521 disability-related complaints, about a 39 percent increase from the 375 disability-related complaints in 2003. A total of 114 discrimination complaints were received, which is up about 34 percent from 2003, during which 85 complaints were received.