Consumer complaints about airlines rose 300% in April over the same month in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The increase in complaints coincided with a surge in flight cancellations, occurring well before this month’s Father’s Day-Juneteenth weekend meltdown in which thousands of flights were canceled. The report showed in April the 10 major airlines canceled 2.3% of their flights. In April 2021 they canceled only 0.5%.
Delays and cancellations dropped sharply this past weekend. On Saturday 673 U.S. flights were scrubbed, and 867 scheduled flights were canceled on Sunday, according to FlightAware.
Industry experts say nearly every airline is struggling because of personnel issues. At the beginning of the pandemic, when air travel dropped dramatically, airlines furloughed many staff members and encouraged early retirement.
This summer, travel is expected to be at the highest level since before the pandemic. But now airlines have a shortage of crew members, in particular pilots. The resulting flight cancellations have caused delays for travelers in getting to their destinations.
Tips for avoiding cancellations
To improve chances of avoiding a canceled flight, Phil Dengler, co-founder of the travel website The Vacationer, advises people traveling by air to try to travel early in the day.
“Flights earlier in the day are less likely to be canceled than ones in the afternoon or at night,” Dengler told ConsumerAffairs. “While that may mean you have to fly out between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., you will probably not have to deal with a cancellation or lengthy delay.”
Booking a nonstop flight, if you can find one, may also help. The more connecting flights that are part of your itinerary, the greater the odds that one of them will be canceled.
“While it may be more expensive, opt for nonstop flights over ones with layovers,” Dengler said.
With a greater chance that a flight will be canceled, Dengler also suggests booking directly with the airline rather than a third-party travel site. It could help avoid a lot of frustration when a flight is canceled.
“Instead of talking directly to the airline if your flight is canceled, you have to deal with the online travel agency's support system,” he said. “It is an unnecessary middleman and could potentially delay or prevent you from getting rebooked on a new flight.”
If your flight is canceled
If your flight is canceled while you are at the airport, Dengler suggests getting in the customer service line as quickly as possible. The faster you are able to talk with an agent, the better your chances of quickly finding an alternative.
If you are a member of an airline loyalty or frequent-flyer program such as Delta Sky Club and American Airlines Admirals Club, Dengler suggests seeking help at the airlines’ airport lounges.
“Agents in airline airport lounges are some of the best available,” he said. “If you have access to your airline's airport lounge, you should head there as soon as your flight is canceled.”