Despite improved service rates among commercial airlines in 2010, passengers filed nearly 25% more complaints than in the previous year, according to statistics released Thursday by the U.S. Transportation Department.
The nation's largest airlines reported a slightly improved on-time performance rate and lower rates of lost luggage and of ticketed passengers denied boarding. Yet the number of complaints filed with the Transportation Department against the airlines jumped to 10,985 in 2010 from 8,821 in 2009.
Consumer activists attribute the growing number of complaints to frustration among passengers over airline fees to check bags, buy food and change reservations, among other charges. But airline representatives say the number of complaints has jumped since the Transportation Department made it easier to file complaints online.
Delta Air Lines had the highest rate of complaints, an average of 2 for every 100,000 passengers. But Delta spokesman Anthony Black said the total complaints filed against his airline has been dropping steadily for the last few months as the carrier's services have improved.
He added that airline fees should not have a big effect on new complaint numbers because the airlines have been charging such fees for the last three years.
The airlines are not required to report the complaints filed by passengers directly to them.
Most of the complaints filed with the Transportation Department involved flight cancellations and problems with reservations and baggage. Customer service was also the source of many complaints.
Still, the nation's largest airlines seemed to improve services in most major categories. For example, the 18 largest air carriers reported an average on-time rate of 79.8% in 2010, up slightly from 79.5% in 2009, according to the federal agency.
The report also showed:
• The rate of mishandled luggage complaints dropped to 3.57 per 1,000 passengers in 2010 from 3.99 in 2009.
• The rate of ticketed passengers denied boarding because of overbooking dropped to 1.09 per 10,000 passengers, down from 1.23 in 2009.
• In December, three domestic flights were delayed on airport runways for more than three hours, compared with 34 flights in December 2009.
• Southwest Airlines had the lowest rate of complaints, an average of 0.27 per 100,000 passengers.