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Airline Passenger Complaints Have Soared Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Airline Passenger Complaints Have Soared Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Airline passenger complaints have soared 1,546 per cent during the COVID-19 pandemic new data from the U.S. Department of Transport (DOT) reveals. The vast majority of those complaints are, perhaps unsurprisingly if you’ve tried to get your money back after a cancelled flight, about refund policies.

The data comes courtesy of the DOT’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Report which, on Friday, was updated with April’s figures – the month in which the Corona crisis really took hold around the world, leading to airlines cancelling flights en mass and in many cases aircraft fleets being almost entirely grounded.

At the time, airlines said they were overwhelmed with passenger requests for refunds and that surge in passenger requests couldn’t have come at a worse time – just when airlines were having to send call centre and administrative employees home because of social distancing rules. Wait times of between 2 – 3 months for a refund request to be processed were not uncommon.

But it wasn’t just the extended length of time the airlines were asking customers to wait to get back their money that annoyed passengers. With the airlines haemorrhaging money, managers were desperate not to give refunds if they could at all avoid it. Instead, passengers were encouraged (and in some cases forced) to take travel vouchers or told they simply weren’t eligible for a cash refund.

United Airlines, in particular, came in for criticism for its refund policy and the DOT issued an enforcement notice fairly early on, reminding airlines that passengers are entitled to a cash refund in the event of a cancelled flight.

In April alone, the DOT received 17,387 complaints about refunds – compared to just 98-refund related complaints in April 2019. Complaints about reservations and ticketing also surged to 1,619 compared to a mere 168 in the same month the year before.

United lead the pack with 2,727 complaints to the DOT about its refund policy. The next closest airline was American with 1,173 complaints, while Delta passengers made 732 complaints about the Atlanta-based airline’s refund policy.

But its wasn’t just U.S.-based airlines that consumers were complaining about – Air Canada topped the chart as the most complained about foreign airline, while Aeromexico and British Airways took the second and third spots respectively over their refund policies.

For now, however, the DOT doesn’t plan on doing anything about these complaints. Instead, they’d rather airlines sorted out the refund mess themselves without enforcement action being taken. Will find out how that has worked out when the figures for May are released.