Why air travel complaints are on the rise

Complaints from Airline Passengers Are Soaring

Airlines are losing fewer bags and getting more customers to their destinations on-time, and yet complaints are on the rise, according to the latest report on air service for the first half of 2015 from Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics. According to the report, overall complaints about air travel rose to 9,542 in the six-month period between January and June 2015, up 20 percent from the same period in 2014 (when 7,935 complaints were lodged).

The latest data show that the total number of complaints about the 13 largest U.S. airlines rose to 6,412 for the first six months of 2015, up from 4,756. (One thing to take into account: more people were flying this year.) So to adjust for this variable, DOT uses another measure—the number of gripes per 100,000 "emplanements" (government-speak for passengers). That number too is up, though not so dramatically—from 1.50 to 1.89.

Still, percentage-wise, that's a significant uptick—so what's the problem? One answer can be found in the fine print of the report next to an asterisk: The DOT only began collecting data for Spirit Airlines starting this January, so the inclusion of that infamous outlier in the stats was bound to drive down the entire industry's overall performance. Spirit's complaint rate was the highest of all the carriers listed, with 11.20 per 100,000 passengers. About 30 percent of the complaints received by DOT concerned flight problems like delays and cancellations, categories in which no-frills lines like Spirit do particularly poorly; customer service also attracted a higher number of critiques. Spirit also led the industry in the number of chronically delayed flights and cancellations. Frontier's wasn't much better, with 10.71 per 100,000 passengers.

Related: See some of the worst airports around the world:

19 PHOTOS
Worst airports in the world
See Gallery
Why air travel complaints are on the rise

1. Islamabad Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Pakistan

Image Credit: Getty

2. Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport, Saudi Arabia

Image Credit: Getty

3. Kathmandu Tribhuvan International Airport, Nepal

Image Credit: Getty

4. Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Philippines

Image Credit: Getty

5. Tashkent International Airport, Uzbekistan

Image Credit: Aleksandr Zykov/Flickr

6. Paris Beauvais-Tille International Airport

Image Credit: Joaquín O.C./Flickr

7. Frankfurt Hahn International Airport, Germany

Image Credit: Getty

8. Bergamo Orio al Serio International Airport, Italy

Image Credit: gaspartorriero/Flickr

9. Berlin Tegel International Airport, Germany

Image Credit: Getty

10. New York City LaGuardia International Airport, USA

Image Credit: Getty

Now, read on for the 10 best airports in the world.

Image Credit: Getty

3. Helsinki International Airport, Finland

Image Credit: Getty

5. Vancouver International Airport, Canada

Image Credit: Getty

6. Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia

Image Credit: Getty

7. Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong

Image Credit: Getty

8. Tokyo Haneda International Airport, Japan

Image Credit: Getty

9. Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport, Netherlands

Image Credit: Getty

10. Zurich International Airport, Switzerland

Image Credit: whatleydude/Flickr

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

By contrast, most of the mainstream airlines performed better the overall industry average, with Southwest, for example, getting just .52 complaints per 100,000 fliers carried—and that's slightly better than the .54 it got the previous year. Delta and JetBlue also improved, with complaint rates of .72 and .88, respectively, down from .81 and 1.50 in 2014. Virgin America's rate went up a tad, from 1.00 to 1.27—but to put that in context, the total number of complaint letters received about the airline was just 42.

On "mishandled" luggage, meaning any bag that doesn't arrive with its owner, the airlines are doing better: the total number of stray bags for the six months ending in June was just over a million, or 3.52 per 1,000 fliers, down from 3.84 for the same period the year before. But fewer customers are checking bags these days anyway to avoid the fees; and most mishandled bags do show up within a day or two.

More from Conde Nast Traveler:
America's greatest hits: The one place you must visit in every state
40 beach resorts you should book right now
The most beautiful travel destinations of all time
The 2015 friendliest and unfriendliest cities in the world
What it's like to fly in a first class "apartment"
The most dangerous trips on Earth

Related Video: Global air travel to double over the next two decades
Global Air Travel To Double Over The Next Two Decades
Read Full Story

Sign up for the Travel Report by AOL newsletter to get exclusive deals and wanderlust inspiration delivered straight to your inbox every day.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.