US airlines show customer service gains as bumping and mishandled bag levels hit new lows

Here’s some statistical analysis from the new Americas version of The Blue Swan Daily that highlights involuntary boarding and mishandled baggage rates in the domestic market have hit new lows, although customer service complaints rise and airline on-time performance remains an issue…

Passenger bumping by US airlines reached a record quarterly low of 0.15 per 10,000 passengers in the third quarter, according to latest figures from the US Department of Transportation (DOT). The rate is down from 0.69 in the third quarter of 2016 and is the lowest quarterly level based on historical data dating back to 1995. It highlights that US airlines have learnt from the Dr Lao experience earlier this year when he was injured after being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight. US carriers have subsequently altered their approaches to involuntary denied boarding policies with United actually reporting that the number of passengers bumped from its flights declined 92% year over year in the third quarter.


Summary:

  • US airline domestic bumping rate falls to 0.15 per 10,000 passengers in Sep-2017, its lowest rate since records were recorded.
  • US airline domestic mishandled baggage rate falls to 1.99 reports per 1,000 passengers in Sep-2017, another record low.
  • US Department of Transportation still reports a one fifth increase in customer service complaints against US airlines versus last year.
  • Hawaiian Airlines the best performing US domestic airline in terms of level of flight cancellations and on-time performance in Sep-2017.
  • Bureau of Transportation Statistics data shows almost a third of all late domestic flights in Sep-2017 (29.82%) were delayed by a weather variant.

The DOT’s November 2017 Air Travel Consumer Report on air carrier data compiled for the month of Sep-2017, as well as round-ups for the third quarter of 2017 and first nine months of 2017, shows that US airlines are making great strides with customer facing issues such as denied boarding and mishandled baggage. The DOT has itself launched a redesigned airline consumer website to make it easier for travellers to understand their rights and allow the public to access information on other aviation consumer matters of interest.

For the third quarter of 2017, the 12 US carriers who report involuntary denied boarding, or bumping, data posted a bumping rate of 0.15 per 10,000 passengers, down from both 0.69 for the third quarter of 2016 and the previous lowest quarterly rate of 0.44 posted in the second quarter of 2017. For the first nine months of this year, the carriers posted a bumping rate of 0.39 per 10,000 passengers, the lowest January through September rate based on historical data dating back to 1995 and down from the rate of 0.65 posted during the first nine months of 2016. The previous lowest rate for the January through September period was 0.64 in 2002.

The US carriers reporting mishandled baggage data posted a mishandled baggage rate of 1.99 reports per 1,000 passengers in September, an improvement over both Sep-2016’s rate of 2.23 and Aug-2017’s rate of 2.45 and the lowest monthly rate since DOT started collecting mishandled baggage report data in Sep-1987. The previous low was 2.02 in Nov-2016. For the first nine months of this year, the carriers posted a mishandled baggage rate of 2.50 reports per 1,000 passengers, an improvement over the 2.75 rate recorded during the first nine months of 2016.

However, despite these advances the DOT still received 1,576 complaints about airline service from consumers, up 21.0% from the total of 1,302 filed in Sep- 2016. Over the first nine months of this year, the Department received 14,419 consumer complaints, up 3.8% from the total of 13,893 filed during the first nine months of 2016.

The consumer report also includes data on on-time performance, cancellations, tarmac delays, chronically delayed flights, and the causes of flight delays filed with the Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) by the reporting carriers. Unfortunately, US airlines have not performed as well in these areas.

In Sep-2017, the reporting carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 83.6%, down from the 85.5% on-time rate in Sep-2016, but up from the 77.1% mark in Aug-2017. The reporting carriers cancelled 3.3% of their scheduled domestic flights, up from both the 0.3% cancellation rate posted in Sep-2016 and the 2.2% rate in Aug-2017. Hurricanes Irma in Florida and Maria in Puerto Rico resulted in an unusually high number of cancellations in Sep-2017.

The highest rate of domestic cancellations for the month was recorded by Spirit Airlines with more than one in ten flights being cancelled (10.4%), while JetBlue Airways (9.3%) and American Airlines (4.6%) followed second and third. The airlines with the least number of domestic cancellations during the month were Hawaiian Airlines (0.4%), SkyWest Airlines (0.6%) and Alaska Airlines (0.7%).

Hawaiian Airlines was again the best performing of the reporting US airlines for its on-time domestic performance in Sep-2017 (94.0%) ahead of Delta Air Lines (88.7%) and Alaska Airlines (86.4%). At the other end of the scale JetBlue Airways had the lowest rate (70.1%) ahead of Spirit Airlines (75.1%) and Virgin America (77.4%).

In terms of chronically delayed flights, a regular scheduled departure that was more than 30 minutes late more than 50% of the time over a five consecutive month period there was just a single flight at the end of September that fitted into that criteria. This was a Spirit Airlines’ Orlando – Newark service, which averaged monthly delays of between 78 and 102 minutes between May-2017 and Sep-2017.

Data from BTS shows an additional six regularly scheduled flights that as at the end of Sep-2017 were chronically delayed for four consecutive months (on JetBlue Fort Lauderdale – Newark, Newark – Fort Lauderdale, Newark – Tampa, Orlando – Mercedita, Orlando – New York and Tampa – Newark routes), an additional three regularly scheduled flights that were chronically delayed for three consecutive months, and an additional three regularly scheduled flights that were chronically delayed for two consecutive months.

In Sep-2017, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that 16.36% of their flights were delayed – 4.23% of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays; 4.40% by late-arriving aircraft; 3.88% by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems; 0.32% by extreme weather; and 0.02% for security reasons. In addition, 3.34% of flights were cancelled and 0.17% were diverted. In terms of overall delays that can be contributed in some way to weather issues, BTS data shows almost a third of all late domestic flights in Sep-2017 (29.82%) were delayed by a weather variant.