Air Travel Consumer Report: December 2023, Full Year 2023 Numbers

Air Travel Consumer Report: December 2023, Full Year 2023 Numbers

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today released its Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR) on airline operational data compiled for the month of December 2023 and calendar year 2023 for on-time performance, mishandled baggage, mishandled wheelchairs and scooters, and oversales.

The ATCR is designed to assist consumers with information on the quality of services provided by airlines. In addition, DOT expects that airlines will operate flights as scheduled and that when they do not, airlines provide consumers the services consumers have been promised when a flight is canceled or delayed because of an airline issue.

In 2023, airline service quality generally improved. Notably, only 1.29% of flights were cancelled across the 10 largest U.S. airlines, far below the 2.71% cancellation rate for 2022, 1.76% for 2021, 5.99% for 2020, and 1.90% for 2019. Across the National Airspace System, the 2023 cancellation rate was under 1.2% the lowest in over a decade. Meanwhile, airlines reported better on-time performance. Further, the rate of wheelchair, scooter, and baggage mishandlings as well as denied boardings all decreased, as did the number of tarmac delays. 

After a two-year DOT push to improve the passenger experience, the 10 largest airlines now guarantee meals and free rebooking on the same airline and nine guarantee hotel accommodations. Consumer-friendly information regarding airline commitments to their customers is available on the Department’s Airline Customer Service Dashboard at FlightRights.Gov. DOT also pushed airlines to provide fee-free family seating and rolled out a new family seating dashboard that highlights the airlines that guarantee fee-free family seating, and those of the 10 largest that do not, making it easier for parents to avoid paying junk fees to sit with their children when they fly.

DOT is also improving transportation for individuals with disabilities. In July 2023, DOT finalized a rule which requires airlines to make lavatories on new, single-aisle aircraft more accessible. Under this final rule, airlines must improve the accessibility of these lavatories short of increasing their size in the short term. In addition, in the long term, airlines are required to provide an accessible lavatory that is large enough to permit a passenger with a disability and attendant, both equivalent in size to a 95th percentile male, to approach, enter, and maneuver within as necessary to use the aircraft lavatory.

In addition, when necessary, DOT takes enforcement action against airlines and ticket agents that fail to comply with the Department’s aviation consumer protection requirements. In 2023, DOT issued the largest fines in the history of the consumer protection office. This includes a $140 million penalty against Southwest Airlines for failing passengers during the 2022 holiday meltdown. The action, which was in addition to over $600 million DOT already ensured was refunded by Southwest to passengers, requires Southwest to establish a $90 million compensation system for future passengers affected by significant delays and cancellations. DOT has helped return more than $3 billion in refunds to travelers since the pandemic began.

Flight Operations

The 603,756 flights operated in December 2023 were 110.35% of the 547,134 flights operated in December 2022. Operated flights in December 2023 were up 10.35% year-over-year from the 547,134 flights operated in December 2022 and up 0.80% month-over-month from the 598,987 flights operated in November 2023.

In December 2023, the 10 marketing network carriers reported 606,218 scheduled domestic flights, of which 2,462 (0.4%) were canceled. In November 2023, airlines scheduled 599,814 domestic flights, of which 827 (0.1%) were canceled. In December 2022, airlines scheduled 578,321 domestic flights, of which 31,187 (5.4%) were canceled.

December 2023 On-Time Arrival

In December 2023, reporting marketing carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 83.9%, down from 86.3% in November 2023, but up from 69.0% in December 2022.

Highest Marketing Carrier On-Time Arrival Rates December 2023 (ATCR Table 1)

  1. Delta Airlines Network – 89.3%
  2. United Airlines Network – 85.6%
  3. American Airlines Network – 84.1%

Lowest Marketing Carrier On-Time Arrival Rates December 2023 (ATCR Table 1)

  1. JetBlue Airways – 71.4%
  2. Spirit Airlines – 75.4%
  3. Frontier Airlines – 77.4%

In 2023, the reporting marketing carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 78.34%, up from 76.72% in 2022.

December 2023 Flight Cancellations

In December 2023, reporting marketing carriers canceled 0.4% of their scheduled domestic flights, higher than the rate of 0.1% in November 2023, but lower than the rate of 5.4% in December 2022.

Lowest Marketing Carrier Rates of Canceled Flights December 2023 (ATCR Table 6)

  1. American Airlines Network – 0.1%  
  2. United Airlines Network – 0.3%   
  3. Delta Air Lines Network – 0.4%

Highest Marketing Carrier Rates of Canceled Flights December 2023 (ATCR Table 6)

  1. Hawaiian Airlines – 1.5%    
  2. Alaska Airlines Network – 1.0%    
  3. Allegiant Air – 0.7%

In 2023, the reporting marketing carriers posted a cancellation rate of 1.29%, down from 2.7% in 2022.

Complaints About Airline Service

The release of air travel service complaint data in the Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR) has been delayed primarily because of the continued high volume of complaints against airlines and ticket agents received by the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) and the time needed to review and process these consumer complaints. The Department is investing in modernizing its system for handling consumer complaints with the support of a Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) investment to improve the customer experience for the tens of thousands of consumers who use the system each year and enable OACP to more effectively engage in oversight of the airline industry. TMF has awarded DOT an $8 million grant towards this effort. 

As DOT modernizes its system, given the continued high volume of air travel service complaints concerning airlines and ticket agents, DOT has revised how it processes consumer complaints received after June 1, 2023. DOT also will revise the ATCR to display consumer submissions (complaints, inquiries, and opinions) as opposed to complaints for this period. The Department will continue to display civil rights complaints in the ATCR in a similar manner as before and anticipates publishing submission and civil rights complaint numbers in spring.

Tarmac Delays

For calendar year 2023, airlines reported 289 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and 27 tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights. For calendar year 2022, airlines reported 376 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and 42 tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights.

In December 2023, airlines reported five tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights, compared to two tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights reported in November 2023. In December 2023, airlines reported zero tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights, compared to one tarmac delay reported in November 2023.

Airlines are required to have and adhere to assurances that they will not allow aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours for domestic flights and four hours for international flights without providing passengers the option to deplane, subject to exceptions related to safety, security, and Air Traffic Control related reasons. An exception also exists for departure delays if the airline begins to return the aircraft to a suitable disembarkation point to deplane passengers by those times.

The Department investigates extended tarmac delays.

Mishandled Baggage

In December 2023, reporting marketing carriers handled 43.1 million bags and posted a mishandled baggage rate of 0.50%, higher than the rate of 0.39% in November 2023, but lower than the rate of 1.09% in December 2022.

For calendar year 2023, the carriers posted a mishandled baggage rate of 0.58%, down from the rate of 0.64% in 2022.

The Department began displaying the mishandled baggage data as a percentage (i.e., per 100 bags enplaned) in January 2022. This is consistent with the manner that the mishandled wheelchairs and scooters rate is calculated and displayed.

In the prior three calendar year reports (2019 to 2021), the Department calculated the mishandled baggage rate based on the number of mishandled bags per 1,000 checked bags.

Mishandled Wheelchairs and Scooters

In December 2023, reporting marketing carriers reported checking 69,397 wheelchairs and scooters and mishandling 968 for a rate of 1.39% mishandled wheelchairs and scooters, higher than the rate of 1.26% mishandled in November 2023, but lower than the rate of 1.49% mishandled in December 2022.

For calendar year 2023, the carriers posted a mishandled wheelchair and scooter rate of 1.38%, down from the rate of 1.41% in 2022.

Yesterday, the Department announced its proposal to strengthen its rule implementing the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) to address the serious problems that individuals with disabilities using wheelchairs and scooters face when traveling by air that impact their safety and dignity, including mishandled wheelchairs and scooters and improper transfers to and from aircraft seats, aisle chairs, and personal wheelchairs. The proposed rule would require that airlines meet strict standards in accommodating passengers with disabilities by setting new standards for prompt, safe, and dignified assistance, mandating enhanced training for airline employees and contractors who physically assist passengers with disabilities and handle passengers’ wheelchairs, and outlining actions that airlines must take to protect passengers when a wheelchair is damaged during transport. The proposed rule also clarifies that damaging or delaying the return of a wheelchair is an automatic violation of the ACAA.

Bumping/Oversales

Bumping/oversales data, unlike other air carrier data, are reported quarterly rather than monthly.

For the fourth quarter of 2023, the 10 U.S. reporting marketing carriers posted an involuntary denied boarding, or bumping, rate of 0.20 per 10,000 passengers, lower than both the rate of 0.35 in the third quarter of 2023 and the rate of 0.30 in the fourth quarter of 2022.

For calendar year 2023, the carriers posted a bumping/oversales rate of 0.30 per 10,000 passengers, down from the rate of 0.32 in 2022.

Incidents Involving Animals

As part of its IT modernization, DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) is improving the options for covered carriers to submit their monthly and annual Reports on Incidents Involving Animals During Air Transport. While the new system is being developed, OACP is permitting covered carriers to delay submission of reports on incidents involving animals during air transport. Annual data on such incidents will be published when DOT receives carriers’ complete submissions of the 2023 data. 

In December 2023, carriers reported zero incidents involving the death, injury, or loss of an animal while traveling by air, down from the one report filed in November 2023 and equal to the zero reports filed in December 2022.

Consumers may file air travel consumer or civil rights complaints online at http://airconsumer.dot.gov/escomplaint/ConsumerForm.cfm or by voicemail at (202) 366-2220, or they may mail a complaint to the Aviation Consumer Protection Division, U.S. Department of Transportation, C-75, W96-432, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20590.

The ATCR and other aviation consumer matters of interest to the public can be found at https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer.

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Official news published at https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/air-travel-consumer-report-december-2023-full-year-2023-numbers

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