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Airline Bumpings Were Up, But Complaints Went Down In First Months Of 2017

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The first few months of 2017 haven’t exactly been great for airlines, what with system outages, bumped passengers being dragged off planes, and other customer service fiascos. In fact, new federal data shows that bumpings were slightly up during the first quarter of 2017, while complaints filed against airlines actually dropped 19%.

That figure comes from the Department of Transportation’s recently released Air Travel Consumer Report [PDF] that found the DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division received 3,731 complaints from passengers between January and March 2017.

That’s a 19.3% decrease from the 4,626 complaints filed by passengers during the first quarter of 2016.

In a month-to-month overview, however, airlines received 19.2% more complaints — about 1,132 — in March 2017 compared to the month prior, when they received 950 complaints.

The complaints cover a wide range of issues including flight problems, baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, customer service, disability, and discrimination.

According to the DOT, three airlines received more than 100 complaints during the month of March, including 183 received by American Airlines, 122 for United, and 102 against Spirit.

For American, 177 complaints related to flight problems, 22 for oversales, 57 for reservations, 62 for fares, 46 for refunds, 78 for baggage, 59 for customer service, and 31 for disability issues.

While American may have received the most complaints of all the airlines, Spirit had the highest rate of complaints per 100,000 passengers. In fact, the airline received 5.05 complaints per 100,000 passengers.

The next highest complaint rate was for Frontier Airlines, which received 3.39 complaints per 100,000 passengers.

While overall complaints are important, the hottest topic related to airline travel lately has been the bumping of passengers and oversold flights.

Following an April incident in which a United Airlines passenger was forcefully removed after he refused to give up his seat, several airlines — including Southwest and United — announced changes to their policies related to overbooking flights.

However, these changes weren’t in effect earlier in the year, when 102,285 passengers on 12 airlines were voluntarily denied boarding and 9,566 were involuntarily denied boarding.

These rates represent a slight increase from the 97,619 voluntary and 9,445 involuntary denied boarding incidents reported during the first three months of 2016. Overall, this translated to an involuntarily denied boarding rate of 0.62 per 10,000 passengers.

JetBlue recorded the highest number of denied boarding passengers, with 1.61 of 10,000 passengers denied boarding. The next highest rate belonged to ExpressJet Airlines which denied boarding for 1.23 of every 10,000 passengers.

Other statistics outlined in the Air Travel Consumer Report included a mishandled baggage rate of 2.24 reports per 1,000 passengers in March, an improvement from the 2.49 rate recording in March 2016.

For the first quarter of this year, the carriers posted a mishandled baggage rate of 2.59 reports per 1,000 passengers, an improvement over the 2.80 rate for the first quarter of 2016.

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