It’s no secret that the aviation industry has taken a serious beating due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s blight on air travel demand. Especially amid the first months of the global health crisis, commercial airlines suffered not just financially, but also from a public-relations perspective, as confusion and frustration over canceled flights, and struggles over vouchers versus refunds, reigned.
In its late-July report, Upgraded Points published the results of an independent investigation into customer complaints being made against major airlines, using data from the latest U.S. Department of Transportation air travel consumer report.
The outlet examined the volume of gripes received by the Transportation Department during March and April 2020 in order to gauge COVID-19’s impact on passenger complaints' submission, using the data for month-over-month and year-over-year comparisons. Consumer grievances were measured not just in overall counts, but also by the number of complaints per 100,000 enplanements.
As could easily have been predicted, the number of customer complaints being registered against air carriers increased dramatically amid COVID-related upheaval. “What was not expected,” said Upgraded Points’ founder, Alex Miller, “was the sheer volume of complaints—the year-to-year rise was simply off the charts."
The study found that U.S. airlines received a total of 8,146 complaints in April 2020, a major jump from the 2,903 registered in March, and a 289-percent increase in the course of a single month. That also represents a 965-percent rise from the 765 complaints received during the same period in 2019.
Unsurprisingly, the most common gripe against airlines surrounded the subject of customer refunds, accounting for 17,387 of the combined complaints made against U.S. and foreign carriers in April 2020. Other common areas of customer discontent included ticketing, fares, customer service, baggage, oversales and disability issues.
“Many other categories of complaints, like issues for the disabled, baggage problems and customer service actually decreased, no doubt due to the fact that fewer people are flying during the pandemic. Yet the volume of complaints in this area is truly mind-boggling: in March of 2019 there were fewer than 100 refund complaints, yet this year has witnessed a gut-busting 17,642-percent increase—over 17,000 complaints!"
In April, the top complained-about domestic carriers were United Airlines (2,822), American Airlines (1,268) and Frontier Airlines (913). Over the same period last year, United received 811 complaints, American got 337 and Frontier had 146, reported Fox Business.
In terms of earning the most complaints per 100,000 enplanements, Frontier led the pack with 2,192, though it received only twelve gripes 100,000 passengers served at the same time last year.