US airlines cancel fewer flights than they have in the last 10 years


Finally, airlines are showing some concern about the traveler’s happiness

The airline industry has hit a new low, but it’s one you’ll like.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) reports that 2023 ended up as the single best year when it comes to flight cancellation rates – the lowest in at least 10 years despite being the busiest year for travel ever.

“Thanks to the tireless work of our nation's aviation safety professionals, millions of travelers were able to fly safely and without disruption last year,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. 

Buttigieg said that the cancellation rate in 2023 was below 1.2% and noted that travel around Christmas and New Year’s was exceptionally smooth, with a cancellation rate of just 0.8% versus the ‘22 holiday travel season when it was an out-of-control 8.2%.

Why did this miracle happen? In the opinion of Airlines for America (A4A), the carriers should be credited for hiring more staff, investing in new technology, and adjusting their flight schedules. 

DOT’s expanded consumer protections for travelers paid off

Secretary Buttigieg may not have won many new friends in the airline biz (like Southwest), but his dogged attempts have paid off for consumers.

Since coming to the DOT, his agency has returned more than $3 billion in refunds and reimbursements to travelers, fined airlines for failing passengers, and expanded airline consumer rights to unprecedented levels. It’s an effort that’s already starting to show in ConsumerAffairs reviews, like this one Tim from Newark, Del., wrote about American Airlines.

“On the day of my return flight I got a notification that my flight was canceled and rebooked the following day. I submitted a claim and then reached out a number of times only to get the automated response. My patience was starting to wear thin until I received an email apologizing for the delayed response (I could tell this was an actual email as opposed to an automated response) and offering me a choice of either an $800 credit or a $615 refund."

Tim said he opted for the cash refund and, shortly after, received an email stating that my request would be processed and allow three weeks for receipt of the check. Tim said he lucked out and got his check well before three weeks.

Progress for the traveler

Does this mean that American has taken notice of Buttigieg’s sermons? Quite possibly. Now, all 10 major airlines guarantee free rebooking and meals, and nine guarantee hotel accommodations when an airline issue causes a delay or cancellation. And that may be the reason why Tim got more love than he thought he might otherwise.

“It should be noted that I only asked to be reimbursed for the extra night stay at my hotel ($182) plus the additional day of parking ($15). I may have been entitled to other expenditures for food that day, but I had just wanted to get reimbursed for expenses that I absolutely would not have incurred," Tim continued. 

"The $615 I received was well over what I asked for. In summary, I am very satisfied with the response by AA. I did lose a vacation day, but, and I say this not being intimate with airline policy, I am not aware of any airline policy covering vacation days and assume this is just part of the risk of flying.”

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